Gulf telecom company Thuraya said Saturday it wanted to set up operations in Iraq, where its satellite phones have seen a dramatic increase in use since the war.

Iraqis discovered the benefit of
satellite phones, when land lines
provided unreliable service

Major satellite telephony providers Inmarsat Ltd. of London; Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; and US Iridium Satellite all saw subscriptions and usage rise before and during the US-led invasion. Inmarsat even had to activate a fifth satellite to cope with demand, but this was probably due to video transmissions during the war.

Chairman Mohammad Omran told reporters that Thuraya Satellite Telecoms Co. wanted to "speed up the setting up of communications facilities in Iraq" and was forming a task force to study the Iraq market.

Thuraya does not have an official distributor or a service provider in Iraq, but Omran said the company would establish both once a recognized government is in place.

"Outgoing and incoming traffic is increasing in Iraq, with the usage at present totalling 100,000 minutes per day. We expect this number to rise further in the coming days," Omran said.

Before the war began March 20, Thuraya registered an average of 15,000 minutes a day in call time in Iraq.

Just before its ouster, Saddam Hussein's regime had ordered Iraqis to hand in satellite phones, saying they could be used to help the US-led coalition.

US forces have lifted their own ban on the use of Thurayas on the battlefield. The military had said the satellite phones, popular with journalists, could pose a security risk to troops.

However, concerns over eavesdropping and line security have not stopped sales – Thuraya alone has signed up well over 100,000 subscribers already, with big plans for the future.

The company announced in June 2002 that it had chosen US aviation giant Boeing to launch a second satellite and build a third. Omran said the second satellite was expected to be launched this June.

The working to reach sales of 110,000 by the end of the month," he said.

Thuraya is an autonomous company established in 1997 by the United Arab Emirate's state-owned Etisalat telecoms monopoly, with more than 15 regional service providers and investment firms in partnership.

The 15 Arab companies include Etisalat (26 percent), Abu Dhabi Investment Company (20 percent), Arabsat (10 percent) and Q-Tel of Qatar (10 percent).