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This is what is happening to Iraq's Internet domain

ICANN's head reveals all

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ICANN, but you can't

The difficulty lies in the history of the Internet and who has the authority to decide who runs country code Internet domains, plus the procedure people have to go through to get a domain moved - or "redelegated" - to someone else.

In the grand old days of the Net, the "father of the Internet" Jon Postel basically decided who ran country's Internet domains. He wrote the basic protocol text on how the DNS was to be delegated, RFC-1591 (standing for Request for Comment). Using this text, the.iq domain was handed over to Bayan Elashi, a Palestinian-born computer expert living in the US, on 9 May 1997, the date on which the very last block of country codes were added to the Internet's Domain Name System (DNS).

A few months before Postel's premature death in October 1998, ICANN had been created by the US government to manage and co-ordinate the DNS. The idea was that ICANN would swiftly become autonomous and manage the rapidly expanding infrastructure. The task of who was chosen to run particular domains was however the responsibility of a different organisation - the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA).

With Postel's death came a power-grab by those in charge of ICANN over IANA. IANA, at its rawest level, is control of the Internet as it is the sole body entitled to make vast global changes in Internet ownership. That power-grab has been furiously opposed by the individuals and companies running the world's country domains, who fear that if ICANN has control over IANA, it will abuse its position to force them to concede on all points over how the Internet should be run.

With this fight going on, in May 1999, ICANN and IANA put out another set of guidelines over DNS delegations - including in what circumstances domains can be redelegated. This document - ICP-1 - in conjunction with RFC-1591, is what gives ICANN and IANA its redelegation authority.

The battle continues. ICANN is continuing to slowly subsume the IANA function to the extent that both organisations are now contacted by a single telephone number, and country-code representatives are continuing to insist that IANA is allowed to run as an autonomous body. Only last month, ICANN's new budget caused the head of the main body representing country-code top-level domains, Centr, to write a furious letter to ICANN that accused it of "unrealistic political and operational targets" and said the idea of ICANN taking over IANA was not "appropriate".

In a recent posting, Internet luminary Karl Auerbach complained that ICANN had been asked at all about the Iraq domain name. "You should address your question to 'IANA' not ICANN - the two are separate, he wrote. "And you should then ask why and how the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (a branch of the US Dept of Commerce) obtained the legal authority to contract-out to have a private company do what amounts to the recognition and un-recognition of who are nation-states."

And so, ICANN is stuck in the middle of a formal request from the US government (the body it currently draws its authority from) to change the delegation on the one side, and a large section of the rest of the world (with whom it has to get on with) on the other side, liable to hit the roof if it assumes such authority.

The ironic thing is that nearly everyone agrees on the final outcome. The question is: how does ICANN get there?

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