February 4, 2013

Iraq stock sale sign of investor confidence

A telecom company raises nearly $1.3 billion – nearly two-thirds of it from foreign buyers.

By KARIN LAUB/The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Iraqi stock traders watch the sales screen at the Iraq Stock Exchange in Baghdad on Sunday. The Iraqi mobile phone company Asiacell sold a 25 percent stake to investors, raising more than $1.3 billion in one of the region's largest share offers in years.

The Associated Press

First-time investor Adnan Jassim, 63, a retired government employee, said he bought 10,000 shares of Asiacell and would have bought even more if he could have afforded them. "It's a well-known company," he said, explaining his decision to enter the stock market.

Asiacell, which has nearly 10 million subscribers, competes against Zain Iraq, part of Kuwait's Zain, and Korek, an affiliate of France Telecom. The Gulf state of Qatar's government-backed Qatar Telecom had a majority stake in Asiacell before Sunday's sale.

All three Iraqi mobile phone companies had been required to list shares on the stock exchange as a condition of their 15-year operating licenses. All three missed a deadline in August 2011 to offer shares to the public.

As the trading was under way in Baghdad, the suicide attackers struck in the disputed city of Kirkuk, some 180 miles north of the capital.

Kirkuk is home to a mix of Arabs, Kurds and Turkomen ‚Äî all with  competing claims to the oil-rich area. The Kurds want to incorporate it into their self-ruled region in Iraq's north, but Arabs and Turkomen are opposed.

In the attack, a car bomber drove his vehicle into the Kirkuk police headquarters, two police officers said. Then a bomb placed in a parked car was detonated. After the second explosion, two suicide attackers armed with machine guns and grenades tried to storm the station. They were killed before they could enter the building or detonate their belts rigged with explosives.

While there was no immediate claim of responsibility, car bombs and coordinated attacks are favorite tactics for Sunni insurgents, such as al-Qaida's Iraq branch.

The insurgent attacks are part of Iraq's persistent sectarian strife. In recent months, tensions have been mounting between the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the country's Sunni and Kurdish minority.

Tens of thousands of Sunnis have taken to the streets, complaining of official discriminations, while the central government has exchanged threats with the leaders of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq over Kirkuk and foreign oil contracts.

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