Iraq's largest mobile network operator, Asiacell, would invest in an undersea fibre-optic connection linking the country to the Gulf "tomorrow" if given government approval, a company official said yesterday. Just three per cent of Iraqis currently have access to the internet, the lowest penetration rate in the region. A key reason for this is the country's lack of a high-speed internet backbone connecting cities within the country to the outside world, said Mohammed Serieh, Asiacell's marketing manager. "We're ready to invest in fibre, and ready to invest in infrastructure, once the government gives us the green light," he said. "We have the plans, we have the resources, we can invest in the infrastructure tomorrow." The eMarine division of Etisalat, which lays and repairs undersea fibre-optic cables, recently said it would be interested in working on a project linking the southern Iraqi port of Basra to Fujairah, which eMarine hopes will become a telecommunications hub for the Gulf. Mr Serieh said the lack of a unified national telecommunications law and regulatory framework is hurting the industry in Iraq, where mobile network operators paid a total of almost US$4 billion to acquire mobile licences in 2007. The government recently fined each operator millions of dollars for not meeting minimum quality standards, and has suggested that new licenses will go on sale this year. "We have an immediate and present danger with the Iraqi government, with the laws and penalties they are putting on the operators," Mr Serieh said.