Iraq’s telecoms sector seems to be undergoing a revival thanks to private sector investment. The Iraqi Telecoms & Post Company announced a number of new infrastructure contracts awarded to install fibre-optic cables across the country.

The latest includes IQ Network’s $180m deal to install a network connecting Saudi Arabia to Turkey via oil refineries in Iraq. A further $63m has been awarded for two submarine cables.

Despite this investment, internet penetration levels are among the lowest in the Middle East. Though exact rates are unknown, it is thought to be between 1-8 per cent. The poor fixed-line infrastructure has restricted connectivity, computer penetration levels are low and prices for an internet connection can be as much as $150 a month for a 512Kbps. Only 15 per cent of the population has regular access to the internet, most through cybercafes, and dial-up is the most common method of connecting to the internet.

According to government figures, Iraq currently has 10,000 kilometres of cables. In September this year, Computer Data Networks connected Iraq to Kuwait via a fibre-optic network intended to provide high-speed broadband connectivity, and in November 2003 a fibre-optic cable linking Jordan and Iraq was completed, but broadband use is almost non-existent. Most high-speed internet connections are made via satellite, which can be expensive.

There is also the question of timing. The new cables are expected to be up and running within the next 18 months, but security concerns and the ongoing political stalemate could mean that deadline is missed.