Domain of confusion and chaos

Iraq’s media commission and the U.S led administration in Iraq have announced plans to set up web addresses using the domain code ‘.IQ’. However as ITP investigated the IQ domain has to clear up the controversy and history before it goes online.

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By  Maddy Reddy Published  June 9, 2004

Iraq’s media commission and the U.S led administration in Iraq have announced plans to set up web addresses using the domain code ‘.IQ’. The new domain name or internet country code similar to .uk for UK, .sa for Saudi Arabia or .ae for the United Arab Emirates. “The .IQ domain name would allow Iraqis to stake a virtual flag in the worldwide Internet community. It is an important tangible and symbolic milestone for this nation, as well as the freedom and hopes of the Iraqi people,” said Dr. Siyamend Zaid Othman, the recently appointed chairman and CEO of the National Communications & Media Commission in Iraq. The ICMC is the first joint authority in Iraq responsible for regulating all forms of electronic communications and internet services. It will also act as an advocate for media freedom and independence, and will work closely with the media and other relevant bodies in advancing professional standards and ethics. However, Dr.Othman’s plan may take longer than expected considering the current state of confusion and lack of clarity regarding the IQ domain name. The Iraqi internet space is marked with one of the lowest usage in the world, during the regime of Saddam Hussein. The ICMC and current Iraqi government are reportedly working with ICANN to ensure a nametag for Iraq on the internet like more than 240 countries, which have country-specific domain names. ICANN is a non-profit corporation responsible for allocating millions of unique codes that makes up internet addresses. It also maintains the Domain Name System (DNS) to ensure that every address is unique and that all users of the internet can find all valid addresses. It also ensures that each domain name maps to the correct IP address, which is critical to smooth internet access all over the world. When we ran a search for the .IQ domain name on the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority site (IANA.org), an independent body (similar to ICANN) which helps assign domain names and claims to be ‘dedicated to preserving the central coordinating functions of the global internet for the public good’ the database showed that .IQ was designated to Bayan Elashi of the Texas-based Alani Corporation, which ran Infocom, a company hosting websites for Middle Eastern companies. In May 1997, the IQ domain was assigned to Infocom. However after the Sep 11 investigations, in December 2002, the FBI indicted the four Elashi brothers who ran InfoCom on charges of providing financial support to Hamas, a Palestinian fundamentalist group. The FBI claims that money from hosting hundreds of Middle Eastern websites was funneled through InfoCom to Hamas or even Al-Qaeda (which was hosted on MyNet.net, run by Elashi). Incidentally, the IANA database was last updated on ‘13-October-2002’, a few weeks before the Elashi brothers were arrested and hauled up in a Seagoville jail in Texas. Globally, in the late 90’s during the dotcom boom there was a mad rush for domain names or website addresses, with thousands of hosting companies and registrars cropping up, fighting for a good location (domain) on the internet and in the process individual domain names worth US$30 being sold for millions of dollars. Eric Brunner-Williams, one of the ICANN members familiar with .IQ issues, in a meeting in Rome last month said: “Currently, the sponsors [of the .IQ domain] are in US custody. They were, at the time, in Texas and they’ve been taken into federal custody for reasons which are irrelevant. I’ve written a summary of how to take control of dot IQ presuming one is willing to commit a minor crime, which you can find at iq.nic-naa.net [currently offline] and underneath there should still be the NOC page. It describes the destruction of the Iraqi infrastructure, as the steps to seize dot IQ, either by seizing its address space or the relationship between the sponsor and ICANN.” The IANA allocates blocks of IP address space to Regional Internet Registries (RIRs). RIRs allocate blocks of IP address space to Local Internet Registries (LIR) that assign the addresses to end users. Following a link from the ICANN site, we checked RIPE.net (Réseaux IP Européens): ‘a collaborative forum open to all parties interested in wide area IP networks. The objective of RIPE is to ensure the administrative and technical coordination necessary to enable the operation of the internet within the RIPE region.’ RIPE allocates large blocks to the LIR, who in turn can assign the addresses to users in any country based to one of its four RIRs including the Middle East. Surprisingly, as per the RIPE database dated June 4, 2004 the Iraqi domains were allocated to four European companies and a Doha, Qatar-based company called the Advanced Internet Center (AIC) and the Internet Office of the Holy See, the official registrar of the Vatican City (.va) State — which is different from the IANA’s records. Incidentally, the Holy See was one of the RIRs for all of the Middle East countries, with an internet presence. Phone calls to the Holy See in Vatican and the AIC weren’t returned at the time of publishing this story. The officials, handling the domains appear to be in the dark. Bruner Williams in a recent internal ICANN posting said: ‘It’s seen over a year now since dot IQ disappeared, and it’s been that long since I have brought this matter to the attention of the ICANN board. My point is where is dot IQ? We know what’s happened with dot cc and so forth, so where is dot IQ?’. Williams was not available for an updated comment on the .IQ domain situation and did not return our e-mails. Last April, according to a Wired news report, an agency called Committee for Information Technology Reconstruction in Iraq (CITRI) announced plans to raise US$10 million by auctioning the IQ domain names. The Citri.org website was not accessible at the time of writing this and instead pointed to a testing page of hosting company. In spite of all the uncertainty about the IQ domain, sites such as Arabicdomainname.com have started selling domain names for the same. With a population of more than 27 million, just about 12% of Iraqis have a PC, of, which of which only about 2% use the internet regularly suggests research from Nielsen/Net Ratings and the ITU. According to current Arab Human Development Report, released in 2003, there are only 18 computers per thousand people in Arab countries. The global average is 78.3. Only 1.6% of the 300 million plus Arab population have access to the internet. For now, the IQ domain or Iraq’s internet presence is still uncertain and is muddled with questions. It is expected to take months before the domain name mess is cleared and Iraq has its own bonafide space on the web.

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