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Mysteriously, mobiles appear in Baghdad

Baghdad, July 22 (Reuters): Mobile phone roaming services were mysteriously available in Baghdad today, bringing cellular service — banned under Saddam Hussein — to ordinary people in the Iraqi capital for the first time.

Yet officially, a tender for three mobile phone licences the US-led administration plans to offer across Iraq has yet to take place. A US military spokesman could not immediately say why the lines turned on or what that meant for the tender.

Callers with foreign-registered GSM phones were able to make and receive calls and send text messages to countries as far away as the US and South Africa. Few Iraqis have suitable phones for now. Foreigners working in Baghdad have widely relied on pricey satellite telephones to stay in touch.

“MTC-Vodafone wishes you a pleasant stay in Kuwait,” a text message sent to roamers in Baghdad said. Other cellphone users reported they had service on a Bahraini network, Batelco, which said it planned to offer services and was testing its network.

“Batelco will start offering mobile services to the public in Iraq later this week or early next week,” regional operations manager Rashid al-Snan said.

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