Iraq stock sale sign of investor confidence
Padraig O'Hannelly, editor of Iraq Business News, an online newsletter, said Iraq offers significant opportunities outside the oil sector.
"Concerns about security, bureaucracy and corruption have clearly deterred many potential foreign investors, while others with a long-term view have chosen to engage with Iraq and work through the difficulties," he said.
During Sunday's trading session in Baghdad, several dozen Iraqis, many of retirement age, followed developments on large screens in the stock market.
First-time investor Adnan Jassim, 63, a retired government employee, said he bought 10,000 shares of Asiacell and would have bought even more if he could have afforded them. "It's a well-known company," he said, explaining his decision to enter the stock market.
Asiacell, which has nearly 10 million subscribers, competes against Zain Iraq, part of Kuwait's Zain, and Korek, an affiliate of France Telecom. The Gulf state of Qatar's government-backed Qatar Telecom had a majority stake in Asiacell before Sunday's sale.
All three Iraqi mobile phone companies had been required to list shares on the stock exchange as a condition of their 15-year operating licenses. All three missed a deadline in August 2011 to offer shares to the public.
As the trading was under way in Baghdad, the suicide attackers struck in the disputed city of Kirkuk, some 290 kilometers (180 miles) north of the capital.
Kirkuk is home to a mix of Arabs, Kurds and Turkomen — all with competing claims to the oil-rich area. The Kurds want to incorporate it into their self-ruled region in Iraq's north, but Arabs and Turkomen are opposed.
In the attack, a car bomber drove his vehicle into the Kirkuk police headquarters, two police officers said. Then a bomb placed in a parked car was detonated. After the second explosion, two suicide attackers armed with machine guns and grenades tried to storm the station. They were killed before they could enter the building or detonate their belts rigged with explosives.
While there was no immediate claim of responsibility, car bombs and coordinated attacks are favorite tactics for Sunni insurgents, such as al-Qaida's Iraq branch.
The insurgent attacks are part of Iraq's persistent sectarian strife. In recent months, tensions have been mounting between the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the country's Sunni and Kurdish minority.
Tens of thousands of Sunnis have taken to the streets, complaining of official discriminations, while the central government has exchanged threats with the leaders of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq over Kirkuk and foreign oil contracts.
Associated Press writer Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad contributed to this report.
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