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Lucent to Rebuild Baghdad Network

Telecom equipment maker Lucent Technologies has won a $25 million subcontract to help restore phone service to 240,000 Baghdad households still without dial tones.

"This type of work is one of our strengths," spokeswoman Mary Ward told internetnews.com. "(We have) more than 25 years of experience deploying, operating and maintaining telecom networks in the Middle East. We have a large, local and international workforce experienced in turning up complex networks quickly."

The deal flows through Bechtel, a construction giant chosen by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to design, rebuild and upgrade Iraq's infrastructure after the U.S.-led war.

It's a big job. Before the conflict erupted this spring, approximately 1.1 million Iraqis used Iraqi Telephone and Post Company (ITPC) for landline service. But in Baghdad alone, 240,000 out of 540,000 telephone lines are down.

Lucent will provide 13 central office switches, optical transport technology and network management capable of handling voice and high-speed data transmissions. The work will begin next month and should take about six months.

Lucent's services arm and Bechtel will work with ITPC personnel and Iraqi contractors to install switches to bring the lines back into service within ITPC's network serving Baghdad and its suburbs.

In addition to rebuilding the network, Lucent will train Iraqis to take over operations of the network to ITPC.

Bechtel, of San Francisco, estimates that as much as 80 percent of the actual work will be done by Iraqi workers and engineers. Still, Iraq is still a dangerous place, with regular guerilla attacks against U.S. and British troops.

"We have not determined exactly how many Lucent employees will be sent to Iraq," Ward said. "The number will probably vary during the project and at any rate will be a very small group of employees. Most of the work will be done by Iraqi nationals."

Ward said the company is "taking appropriate precautions to ensure their safety and will constantly reevaluate and adjust our measures."

The Iraq deal comes days after Murray Hill, N.J., firm acknowledged an investigatation by the Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission for possible violations of federal statute prohibiting bribery of foreign officials.

The probe, which stems from a lawsuit filed by a Saudi Arabian telecom company, centers around allegations that a Lucent employee bribed a Saudi Arabian official with $15 million in cash, gifts and use of private jets influence decisions that could help Lucent's business.

Lucent has denied the allegations and is cooperating with U.S. investigators.