WorldCom Inc., newly branded as MCI, has won a U.S. government contract to build a Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) digital cell phone network in Iraq as part of a post-war rebuilding effort, the GSM Association confirmed Monday.

The contract authorizes WorldCom to build what will at first be a small network used mostly for humanitarian relief efforts, according to GSM Association spokesman Mark Smith. The association, based in London, is a representative body for the wireless industry and is working with WorldCom and the U.S. government to provide security to the new Iraqi network.

The fact the network is based on GSM is “absolutely critical,” according to Smith, who said that many of Iraq’s neighbors and most of the Arab world operate on the standard.

“There are 60 million users on the GSM standard across the Arab world, and 38 million among Iraq’s neighbors,” he said.

The digital cellular telephone standard, which is based on time division multiple access (TDMA), has experienced rapid adoption in recent years, and become prevalent across Europe. According to information released by the GSM Association last week, by the end of 2002 there were 780 million GSM subscribers across 190 countries.

The Iraqi network will initially serve 10,000 to 20,000 users and will be in place by mid-June. Eventually the network be turned over to the new Iraqi government, which will then license it to network providers. It is not assured that WorldCom, of Ashburn, Virginia, will be able to keep the contract, Smith added.