There has been heavier than expected demand for shares in Iraqi mobile telecoms operator Asiacell from local investors, according to the company’s broker.

The initial public offering (IPO) of Asiacell is due to close on 2 February, following a month-long subscription period. Existing Iraqi shareholders are selling ID1.485 trillion ($1.3bn) worth of shares, with 67.5 billion on offer at ID22 each.

Shwan Ibrahim Taha, chairman of the local Rabee Securities, which is the sole distributor and selling agent on the IPO, said at the start of the week that there has been equal demand from inside and outside the country, although that could change in the closing days of the IPO.

“We will have to wait until the end, but it looks it will be close to 50/50 [between local and international investors],” he said. “Local high-net-worth demand is higher than expected.”

At the start of the year, international investors has been expected to take up the vast majority of shares, with one source suggesting as much as 80 per cent of the shares would go to foreign buyers. Among the international buyers, GCC investors are thought to be showing the greatest interest. Qatar Telecom (Qtel) already holds 54 per cent of the shares.

However, it was still not clear whether there was sufficient demand to sell all the shares. A spokesman for another local broker, Atlas, says it has seen large orders, but could not confirm whether demand would be enough to cover all the shares on offer.

If Asiacell does manage to complete the IPO, its shares will start trading on the Iraqi Stock Exchange on 3 February. At that point, it will instantly become the largest company on the exchange.

A successful IPO will help to pave the way for the country’s two other mobile operators, Zain Iraq and Korek Telecom, to also list their shares. All three are obliged to sell at least 25 per cent of shares to the public as part of their licence conditions.