Friday, February 10, 2006

Danger? Drabness? No Date? Iraqis Find an Outlet Online

I hope that the Internet will do as much to bring about democracy in Iraq, as anything else that might be tried. I believe that knowledge is a beacon of light that pushes back the darkness of hate.

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Feb. 9 — On a recent rainy afternoon, Ahmad Nader Ali sat in a booth at the ShreifiNet Cafe, sending instant messages to his brother who lives in Finland on one screen window and his fiancée, Nour, on another. A tiny Web camera sat atop the computer, beaming live images of him to Nour's home screen across Baghdad.

"Because of the situation, I'm not able to go and see her often," said Mr. Ali, a confident 20-year-old with slicked-back hair who runs a men's clothing store. "Everybody does it like this."
Nearby, partially hidden by wood-paneled booths, were a dozen other young men staring intently at their screens, most chatting simultaneously on three or four different e-mail accounts. All of them were paying 1,500 dinars an hour — about a dollar — to escape the gray confines of Baghdad's blasted walls for a while. Two heavyset men sat on a black faux-leather couch by the door, keeping a watchful eye on the street.

Three years ago, the Internet was virtually unknown in Iraq. Today, Baghdad has dozens of Internet cafes like ShreifiNet, which consists of three sparely decorated rooms with a total of 34 computers and a satellite dish on the roof. Most of the cafes also transmit wireless services to home Internet users in the surrounding area for a monthly fee; in parts of central Baghdad there are about 20 overlapping wireless networks.

The universal hunger to get online has made computer and Web services one of the few bright spots in Iraq's stagnant economy. On Sinaa Street, the two-lane thoroughfare in central Baghdad lined with computer and software stores, business is brisk. Companies that install wireless networks and satellite dishes are also thriving, despite the irritation caused by frequent power failures. So are many Internet cafes.

The Rest of the Story.

Previous List Random Join Next Grunt's Military Site