Baghdad surfs net

The war clouds loom over Iraq, but the internet continues to conquer boundaries.

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By  John Irish Published  February 26, 2003

While inspectors search for a smoking gun in Iraq and the country’s population holds its breath, a small revolutionary internet café in the heart of Baghdad opened on February 23.

The café, named after bin Annadeem, an Islamic scientist who lived in the Iraqi capital during the tenth century, has a DSL-line that will increase connection speeds from 64 kbits/s to 128 Kbits/s.

The difficulties surrounding the Baathist state has meant that the internet has developed in popularity as a means of keeping in touch with the outside world and has consequently led to the regime easing internet access to a certain degree.

On the whole, connectivity is still relatively slow and private e-mail boxes such as Hotmail are denied, suggesting that the government continues to monitor internet usage.

Iraq’s move into the cyber world has been a gradual process for all strands of society. Initially, government ministries were allowed to use a limited internet service without access to e-mail. However, in 2000, the first state-run e-mail centres were set up, which were then followed by internet availability and even access for universities this year.

The eagerness of Iraqis to surf the net has led to authorities restricting the amount of hours students can use it to just a few per week. The service has also been made available to private users, but at a cost of around US $30 per month, most Iraqis cannot afford it.

“People are willing to wait for hours,” said Bassma Al Khatib, CEO of Annadeem internet café.

The Annadeem café on the surface appears to be the first non-government run internet establishment. At present, there are nineteen government institutions that enable users to surf the net at reasonable costs.

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