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This is what is happening to Iraq's Internet domain

ICANN's head reveals all

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Analysis With the handover of power in Iraq this week, from the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to the Interim Iraqi Government, the issue of the country's Internet has again become a big issue.

Numerous media outlets have stumbled upon the fact that the .iq domain set aside for Iraq does not actually exist on the Internet and its ownership is in limbo. Not only that but the current owners are currently in a US federal jail for aiding a Hamas terrorist and exporting computers to Syria and Libya against the law.

The situation has been further intensified by Dr Siyamend Zaid Othman - the head of Iraq's new National Communications and Media Commission (ICMC), created on 20 April this year by the CPA's Paul Bremer - using his multitude of media connections (he is senior vice-president at United Press International) to stir things up.

"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," he has been widely quoted as saying.

At the same time, it was also revealed that Paul Bremer had sent a letter to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) just days before the ICMC was created, requesting that the domain's ownership be handed over to it.

It is over two months later, and nothing has happened, prompting those with a heavy interest in seeing Iraq's Internet at least appear on the Net to use the handover of power to give the issue greater prominence. A variety of ill-informed commentators have waxed lyrical about what could happen, often using the re-delegation of Afghanistan in January 2003 as a post to pin their comments.

Afghanistan's handover was certainly interesting in that the previous owner, who hadn't been seen or heard of since the US started bombing Kabul, suddenly appeared, signed a piece of paper handing over ownership to the US-run interim authority, and then just as quickly disappeared again. Such fortune cannot befall the Iraq domain though as everyone knows exactly where the owner Bayan Elashi resides - federal jail, Dallas, Texas, USA - and he is not exactly likely to agree to hand the domain over.

But all that aside, the man in the street cannot be expected to understand why an entire country's Internet presence is left in the hands of suspected terrorist sympathisers - and does even appear on the Net - when a recognised Iraqi media commission has requested its ownership. But, as with everything in Iraq, the reality is far, far more complex.

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