By John Lee.

Zain Iraq performed “exceptionally well” in H1 2018 when compared to H1 2017 with revenues reaching USD 558 million, a 7% increase Y-o-Y and EBITDA reached USD 194 million, up 8% reflecting an EBITDA margin of 35%.

According to a statement from the company, the operation reported a net profit of USD 18 million, up 66% on the USD 11 million profit recorded for H1 2017.

The expansion of 3.9G services across the country and restoration of sites in the West and North of the country, combined with numerous customer acquisition initiatives, especially in core regions, resulted in an impressive addition of 1.9 million customers (15% increase) to reach 14.7 million.

Also contributing to the operation’s financial revival was the significant growth of data revenues, robust growth in the Enterprise (B2B) segment and the revamping of its call centers significantly improving customer service.

(Source: Zain)

(Pictured: Bader Al-Kharafi, Vice-Chairman and Group CEO)

This article was originally published by Niqash. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

By Mustafa Habib.

Iraqi Internet Shuts Down, Fake News Blossoms During Information Blackout

When it came to disinformation, shutting down the Internet to prevent protests in Iraq may have backfired. Iraqis get most of their information from social media and there was none, so false reports circulated wildly.

On June 14, the Iraqi government shut down the Internet in an effort to try and prevent the spread of anti-government protests. The demonstrations, which called for better state services, power and water, had spread from the southern city of Basra to nine other provinces, including Baghdad. And clearly the government wanted to prevent them from going any further.

For the past few years, these types of protests have broken out every summer. In stifling heat rising to 50 degrees Celsius, the lack of power to refrigerate foods or keep houses cool and the fact that water coming out of the taps is salty, is enough to drive Iraqis to protest. But these demonstrations spread further than previous years.

And one imagines that the Iraqi government was trying to prevent the spread of information about the protests, in order to contain them. They are able to block the Internet thanks to the fact that most of infrastructure used for relaying the Internet is government-owned.

However the Internet blockage seemed to only frustrate Iraqis further. Locals here rely heavily on social media to get their news; they tend not to trust local media, believing it to be partisan or funded by interested parties who push their own agenda. What friends and relatives post on Facebook has become a major and important source of information – and when the Internet is down they obviously cannot access this.

So locals found themselves watching TV to get more information about the protests or resorting to VPN – virtual private networks – to access the online world. Iraqis have become accustomed to using this kind of software when the government shuts down, or throttles the Internet here, but as digital privacy experts point out, these too can be  dangerous, especially with regard to privacy.

Clearly Iraqis right around the country were interested to know more about the protests. But pictures and videos were hard to come by, given the Internet shutdown. This led dozens of Facebook pages, specializing in Iraqi news and current affairs, to write up stories about the protests – but as they did, they also used older pictures and videos and many ended up publishing unsubstantiated rumours.

Iraqis who sympathized with the demonstrators didn’t just publish news reports on their pages, they also uploaded pictures and videos to Facebook – some of these were real and some were not. News organisations, like NIQASH, received these kinds of items via messages from people who appeared to be private citizens; however, due to the Internet shutdown, it was difficult to verify the content that was being sent and some of it was certainly not from the current demonstrations.

In fact, as Internet-rights activist and head of the Ansam Network, Haidar Hamzouz, says, the Internet blockade may well have had the opposite of the government’s intended effect. “Shutting down the Internet is a violation of the freedom of expression,” Hamzouz told NIQASH. “And the decision to do this was not the right one – it actually contributed to the spread of false news and it also became very difficult to inform anyone that  certain items were false news.”

It seems that in Iraq, as elsewhere in the world, false reports and emotion-generating half-truths spread far faster than the truth.

Even though the government owns the public broadcaster, Iraqi Media Network, and they have huge resources, they still have not been able to stop the spread of these false reports and rumours, Hamzouz says. “We need institutions that are capable of relaying the facts and combatting fake news, rather than those who just shut down the Internet,” he argues. “Combatting fake news and untrue reports requires a change in the communal culture, one that values verification and checks sources. Unfortunately this doesn’t yet exist in Iraq,” he notes.

One of the more dangerous pieces of false news involved reports that the security forces, who were clashing with the demonstrators in the south, were actually from elsewhere, and more specifically from Anbar and Mosul. The message was that Sunni Muslim soldiers – who mainly come from central and northern Iraq – were abusing Shiite Muslim protestors, who mainly live in southern Iraq. It was clearly a report aimed at fuelling sectarian conflict.

“It is so unfortunate that this news incited hatred against us,” says Ali al-Rubaie, a police captain based in Rustafa, Baghdad. “The members of the security forces who were deployed to the protests were actually residents from the same cities. Each province has its own police and counter-terrorism forces. It would be impossible to do that job with troops from outside of the provinces in which the protests occurred,” he argues.

Additionally when the protests first started, news that the demonstrators were clashing with Iraqi security forces spread fast. But given the internet blockade, it was difficult to find pictures from incidents. One picture that was shared many times shows an Iraqi soldier pointing his gun at an unarmed civilian lying on the ground. However the picture was actually taken during a military training exercise in 2014, organized for a military training graduation ceremony in Karbala.

Another dangerous piece of news had Talib Shaghati, the head of Iraq’s special forces troops, commenting on the clashes between the demonstrators and the security forces. “This is not our battle and we will not stain our hands with the blood of our sons and brothers for the sake of some corrupt officials,” Shaghati was alleged to have said in a  statement that was widely circulated on social media.

The same report said that Shaghati  had been asked to send his troops to the protests but he had refused, and that he had asked the government to listen to the demonstrators’ demands before it was too late. Thousands of Iraqis believed this report and some even said that there should be a military coup because it was clear that the protests had no impact on the government, and the military were on the protestors’ side.

The US was not coming to the rescue either: One report said that US president Donald Trump had said his government was keeping a close eye on the protests in Iraq. This was followed by video footage of two military divisions landing at Baghdad airport. None of this was true: The video was an old one.

Saudi Arabia was not coming to the rescue either. As the protest movement gained momentum, its critics were divided. Some said Iran was behind the protests because the neighbouring nation was going to stop supplying power to Iraq. Others said Saudi Arabia was at fault and was pushing people to demonstrate in order to cause chaos in Iraq.

One of the obviously false reports was started by a page on Facebook called Saudi News. It said that Saudi Arabia’s ruling monarch had ordered water lines and electricity transmission lines to be built urgently for the southern parts of Iraq. The report spread quickly throughout Iraqi social media despite its fanciful nature.

By John Lee.

An Iraqi government block on internet access is reportedly costing the country $40 million per day in lost business, sales and opportunities.

The estimate is from the COST tool, based on the Brookings Institution economic impact methodology for internet shutdowns, using data collected by the NetBlocks internet shutdown observatory in collaboration with volunteers across Iraq.

Internet restrictions that have been implemented in an attempt to suppress the recent protests across the country.

According to Amnesty International, the internet was cut to stop protesters posting images of security force attacks.

(Source: NetBlocks)

By Amnesty International.

Internet Cut to Stop Protesters Posting Images of Security Force Attacks

Amnesty International has learned that the Iraqi authorities have disabled internet access shortly before the security forces have attacked – and in some cases killed – people protesting over unemployment and inadequate government services across the south of the country.

In the past week, witnesses in Basra governorate have reported to Amnesty that security forces have been using tear gas and live ammunition against peaceful protesters. At least eight people are reported to have died in the protests so far, according to the Iraqi Health Ministry. Witnesses also reported peaceful protesters being beaten with batons, cables and plastic hoses in violent attempts to disperse them.

Trusted sources have told Amnesty they believe internet access is being deliberately cut off to prevent protesters and human rights activists from sharing images of the excessive force being used by security forces. One source in Baghdad told Amnesty:

“When there is no internet, people are being beaten and killed because we can’t upload it. Iraqis now know the value of social media. We need it to raise our voice.”

Protests in Iraq erupted on Sunday 8 July and the internet was cut late at night on Thursday 12 July. Although access was mostly restored on Monday, the signal reportedly remains weak across the country and several social media platforms remain blocked.

More here.

UK-based ONEm is partnering with Asiacell to bring unlimited news and entertainment content from Reuters to Iraq.

Asiacell subscribers can now exclusively access global news on any mobile device.

The #Reuter service provides full coverage of real time news and entertainment content in Arabic delivered by SMS.

Users interact with the #Reuter service menu by SMS and receive their chosen category of news and entertainment content from returned SMS, enjoying unlimited use of the service for 600 IQD per week.

(Source: ONEm)

The International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, is providing a financing package of $269 million to Zain Iraq, a leading mobile network operator, to help reconstruct the country’s telecom operations and spur economic growth.

IFC arranged a $269 million debt package including $100 million from IFC’s own account, and $169 million in mobilization.

The mobilized amount includes a B Loan from Arab Bank, a loan through the IFC Managed Co-Lending Portfolio Program, a new syndications platform that offers institutional investors the ability to passively participate in IFC’s future senior loan portfolio, and a parallel loan from DEG and Finnfund.

The financing will help Zain Iraq enhance the capacity and quality of its 3G network and expand coverage to unserved areas, as well as helping the company modernize its networks and customer service in northern Iraq.

“This financing from IFC and partners will help us strengthen our footprint, modernize infrastructure, and provide a better quality of service to our customers,” said Ali Al-Zahid, the CEO of Zain Iraq. “It will also enhance access to higher quality broadband, a key enabler of broad economic activity, for both consumers and businesses.”

Iraq is one of the least developed telecom markets in the Middle East region due to the fragile security situation, and mobile network operators have struggled to maintain their networks and have refrained from investing heavily in infrastructure.

“Supporting infrastructure development in Iraq is an essential building block of the reconstruction effort,” said Mouayed Makhlouf, IFC Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “Restoring and enhancing broadband infrastructure can have a substantial multiplier effect on the economy through increased connectivity and reduced transaction costs, enhanced flows of information, and more efficient and effective matching of market players, among many other much needed benefits.”

By arranging and mobilizing a seven-year loan in a country where long-term financing options remain limited, IFC’s investment will support Zain Iraq’s growth plans, while sending a positive signal to domestic and international players at a critical point in the country’s recovery.

Zain Iraq has been an IFC partner since 2011, when IFC arranged a $400 million syndicated loan for the company. This included mobilization of $195 million from DEG, Proparco, FMO, and the Infrastructure Credit Facility.

(Source: IFC)

By John Lee.

The Iraqi government is reportedly temporarily suspend internet connections across the country to stop school pupils cheating during exams.

According to media reports, this is the third consecutive year that this will happen.

The internet is expected to be blocked for two hours each morning during the two-week exam period.

(Sources: Al Jazeera, The Independent)

(Picture: Internet, from ViewVie/Shutterstock)

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned the arrests to which two investigative reporters have been subjected in different parts of Iraq in the past few days in connection with their coverage of corruption, and calls for an end to the harassment of these journalists.

The latest victim was Mostafa Hamed, a reporter based in Fallujah, in the western province of Al Anbar, where he works for the local TV channel Sharqeya. He was arrested at his home at 2 a.m. on 9 June by policemen who did not tell him what he was charged with, and was finally released today without being charged.

According to the information gathered by the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory (JFO), RSF’s partner NGO in Iraq, Hamed had been investigating the involvement of Fallujah city hall leaders in a real estate scandal. Sharqeya is owned by Saad al Bazzaz, a local businessman and political rival of Al Anbar’s governor, who tried to get the TV channel closed last December.

The other recent victim is Hossam al Kaabi (pictured), a reporter based in Najaf, 180 km south of Baghdad, who has repeatedly been harassed in connection with his coverage of an alleged corruption case involving the Najaf provincial airport’s former governing board.

What with money, women and threats, every kind of method has been used in an attempt to silence his reporting on the case, he said. The corruption case is however by no means a secret. He has also been the target of dozens of legal actions. The latest method was an arrest warrant, which resulted in his having to pay the large sum of 15 million dinars (10,745 euros) in bail to obtain his release on 6 June.

The warrant was the result of a complaint filed by Najaf airport’s former administration four days after Kaabi’s main media outlet, the NRT network’s Arabic-language channel, was forced to close for financial reasons. Defended by a consortium of lawyers, Kaabi told RSF he is concerned about the outcome because of the lack of judicial independence in Iraq.

“These two arrest warrants highlight the different kinds of difficulties for journalists in Iraq, which not only include being unjustly prosecuted but also the risk of seeing your work used for the purposes of the political rivalry,” said Sophie Anmuth, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “The absurd proceedings against Hossam al Kaabi must be dropped and the authorities must do their duty to protect journalists who are the target of threats.”

As Kaabi points out on Facebook, in theory Iraqi law protects the right of journalists to seek information and sources. But in practice, as JFO has often reported, local officials act with impunity when they use judicial pressure and sometimes death threats to pressure journalists who investigate corruption.

Iraq is ranked 160th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.

(Source: RSF)

By Mustafa Saadoun for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News

A group of war correspondents announced May 20 the formation of an association to defend the rights of war correspondents and journalists.

Association leader Mustafa Latif told NRT TV on May 20, “We will announce the formation of the association officially June 1 during a conference that will be held in Baghdad.”

Iraqi journalists who covered the battles against the Islamic State (IS) in recent years created their own association independent of the two syndicates of journalists in Iraq — the Iraq Journalists Syndicate and the National Union of Iraqi Journalists — and of the institutions that defend journalistic freedom.

War correspondents who were sent to the battlefronts to cover battles against IS over the past four years have formed the National Military Information Association, which will defend the rights of wounded and slain journalists who were not treated fairly by their media corporations during war coverage.

Mujahed Abu al-Hill, the head of the Iraqi Media Network, met with the constituent committee of the association May 2 and promised to help it become a platform documenting the achievements of correspondents who work for various Iraqi national media outlets and who covered Iraqi forces’ battles against terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and IS. The Iraqi Media Network is an independent public organization in charge of a number of TV, radio and other media operations, including Al-Iraqiya TV.

The war correspondents association began forming a seven-member constituent committee in April and elected correspondent Ali Mtayar as president and his colleagues Latif and Ali Rashid as deputies. The group has 120 war correspondents as members.

Mtayar told Al-Monitor that governmental red tape is delaying necessary paperwork in the cases of slain and wounded journalists. “We want to put more pressure to help our colleagues who have sacrificed their lives to relay the truth to get their rights,” Mtayar said.

Latif said, “Our priority is to guarantee the rights of those killed and wounded from the media corporations where they worked.”

The association was established a year after the battles in the country ended and most war correspondents returned to peaceful cities to practice their profession. However, it seems that when some wounded journalists did not receive proper treatment and when some slain journalists’ families did not receive compensation, their colleagues decided to form a body to defend the rights of those affected.

The association will be part of civil society and will work in partnership with the Iraqi Media Network and the Iraq Journalists Syndicate. It will be registered with the nongovernmental association department affiliated with the general secretariat of the Iraqi Cabinet.

Before 2013 and the rise of extremist groups in western Iraq, the term “war correspondent” was not common. But it spread widely after IS took over Mosul in June 2014 and media teams began accompanying governmental forces to battlefronts.

Iraq is among the most dangerous journalistic environments in the world, and in recent years many local and foreign journalists have been killed in the country.

Iraq lost 50 local journalists over four years at battlefronts, and more than 100 journalists were wounded. Some of them still are suffering from critical injuries. Investigative reports have shown that some war correspondents were sent to battlefronts under unprofessional conditions in terms of their safety and without social security coverage in what is being called a violation of their rights.

Members of the association said its formation was long overdue. They blamed the delay on the intervention of governmental groups.

Constituent committee Haidar Shakour told Al-Monitor, “The disbanded Military Information Cell that was affiliated with the premiership pressured war correspondents and discriminated against them to control the news and military correspondence. This is one of the reasons the formation of the association was delayed, but we have managed to be independent and form our own entity.”

The association put in place an annual work plan related to several issues, including training Iraqi journalists on covering conflict zones and on professional safety. Projects related to how the media cover the military and journalists’ role in helping societies receive news during war are to be carried out.

The association is compiling cases of journalists who were killed and wounded in battles but where proper compensation was not provided. The cases will be submitted to the Iraqi government in cooperation with the Iraq Journalists’ Syndicate. A program in coordination with the government is also planned in order for those suffering from major injuries to be treated outside Iraq.

The war correspondents association is not directly funded by any governmental or nongovernmental party. But the Iraqi Media Network made promises to offer it some logistical aid to provide headquarters and office stationery for its members.

Amal Sakr, vice president of the National Union of Iraqi Journalists, told Al-Monitor, “I believe this association is not necessary. It is an addition to the list of other associations that offered journalists nothing.”

Sakr said legislation in parliament guaranteeing rights of journalists is more important than an abundance of associations raising the banner of defending journalists.

By John Lee.

Revenues at Zain Iraq reached $275 million in the first quarter of 2018, a 9-percent increase year-on-year.

EBITDA reached $96 million, up 12 percent, reflecting an EBITDA margin of 35 percent.

The operation reported a net profit of $8 million, substantially up on the $283,000 profit recorded for Q1, 2017.

The expansion of 3.9G services across the country and restoration of sites in the West and North, combined with numerous customer acquisition initiatives, especially in core regions, resulted in impressive addition of 2.2 million customers (18 percent increase) to reach 14.5 million.

Also contributing to the operation’s financial revival was the significant growth of data revenues, robust growth in enterprise (B2B) segment, and the revamping of its call centers significantly improving customer service.

(Source: Zain)