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This is what is happening to Iraq's Internet domain

ICANN's head reveals all

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Paul Twomey answers your questions

Dr Paul Twomey is the new head of ICANN and the man with the daunting job of moving the organisation away from the US government's ownership to autonomy within three years, while at the same time getting the rest of a very sceptical world to accept its overall authority on the Internet.

In response to press queries about Paul Bremer's letter to ICANN, Twomey put out a statement which read: "ICANN recently received a communication from the Coalition Provisional Authority requesting ICANN's assistance in the redelegation of .iq. ICANN consequently advised the Coalition Provisional Authority of ICANN's procedures for redelegation requests and gave them examples of recent successful redelegations. ICANN stands ready to assist the relevant authority on receipt of any such application. ICANN will process quickly any such application according to our standard criteria and processes."

It was all he could be expected to do in such a complicated situation, with strong passions on both sides and the spotlight of the world's press currently shining on Iraq. Fortunately, he spoke to us in greater detail to explain what will happen to the Iraq domain.

Despite the clear political pressure, he assured us it was not a matter of walking a tightrope: "This is not a tightrope - from our perspective it is a matter of standard procedure."

A simple overview of the procedures is on IANA's site here, but you need to go to ICP-1 to find the finer points. "In the event of a conflict over designation of a TLD manager," it reads, "the IANA tries to have conflicting parties reach agreement among themselves and generally takes no action unless all contending parties agree."

But: "On a few occasions, the parties involved in proposed delegations or transfers have not been able to reach an agreement and the IANA has been required to resolve the matter. This is usually a long drawn out process, leaving at least one party unhappy, so it is far better when the parties can reach an agreement among themselves."

On this occasion, however, getting Bayan Elashi to agree to hand over .iq to the adminstration put in place by the very people that are holding him in jail is going to be difficult. However, Dr Twomey says, this is not the end of the matter. "This is not an ideal situation, but there are various instances when a domain can be delegated without agreement."

ICP-1 again, points out what they are: "In cases where there is misconduct, or violation of the policies set forth in this document and RFC 1591, or persistent, recurring problems with the proper operation of a domain, the IANA reserves the right to revoke and to redelegate a Top Level Domain to another manager."

This has already happened a few times, Twomey tells us. But the problem he says is building up the zone file - the list of which domain names (such as baghdad.iq or government.iq) belong to who - if one person is unwilling to hand over the information.

"It is not just a change in contract. In a redelegation, the current person has the zone file and you have to negotiate with them to hand it over." Again, this hasn't always been the case either: "There have been a few hostile redelegations in which the zone file has been recontructed from different sources, and there was a Central Asia example where it was started from scratch."

However, the zone file is not such a big issue with Iraq. There were never more than a few hundred.iq domains - far likely less - and the entire domain has not been active since Elashi and his brothers were arrested by the FBI in December 2002. It may not be palatable but there is no doubt that the entire domain disappearing off the Internet for more than a year can be seen as "recurring problems with the proper operation of a domain".

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