BAGHDAD--Asiacell, Iraq's largest private telecoms company, has tapped FTI Consulting ahead of a proposed $1bn IPO later this year.

The mobile operator, which is part-owned by Qatar Telecom, was required to list at least 25 percent of its shares on the Iraq Stock Exchange (ISX) before August 2011. That deadline has passed, but Asiacell is expected to list this year, in a move that values the overall company at more than $4bn.

Is is understood that FTI Consulting has been brought aboard to handle public and investor relations around the listing, thanks to its experience of telco listings both within the region and beyond. An FTI spokesperson confirmed the appointment but declined to provide further details.

The IPOs of Asiacell, and Iraq’s two other mobile players - Zain and Kotek - represent a watershed in the development of Iraq’s capital markets, marking the first Western-structured offerings - including a roadshow and bookbuilding - to take place in the country. They are also likely to be viewed as evidence of stable economic progress in the war-torn nation.

As an initial step, FTI recently handled the announcement that Asiacell has converted to a private joint stock company. The firm is leading the account out of its Middle East HQ in Dubai; it does not have an Iraqi office, but is understood to be working with a local partner firm in the country.

The listings are expected to spark foreign interest in ISX, which was one of the best performing global stock markets in 2011, albeit from a tiny base. The trio of mobile operators have been reluctant to list too soon, for fear that an under-developed market may result in poor returns.

Local buyers are expected to be critical to the eventual success of the listings, calling for a considerable educational component to the public relations programme.

Established in 1999, Asiacell was the first mobile operator to launch in Iraq and now claims the country’s largest network. Telecommunications is considered one of Iraq’s fastest-growing industries, with a relatively low penetration rate of 76 percent resulting in double-digit subscriber growth. According to the country’s Communications and Media Commission, there are now 23m mobile subscribers in Iraq, of which Asiacell accounts for around 9m.