As we gradually help rebuild Iraq, one key element to diagnose and fix is web access. It is reported that only about 5% of Iraqis have web connections from home. More can actually get online from Internet cafes and from their cell phones. Recently, a State Department sponsored trip to Baghdad included Internet execs such as Jack Dorsey from Twitter, Jack Liebman from Howcast, and Raana Bar-Cohen of Automattic and WordPress. The goal of the trip was to assess the future of Iraq’s online culture and discuss ways to inspire new web entrepreneurs to emerge. (as stated in a recent Seattle Times article)
Iraq has begun a campaign to attract new foreign investment but needs to figure out the exact message and value proposition before true success will be reached. The effort will no doubt take a long time but things are moving in the right direction. One concern expressed by State Department and CIA officials is the possiblity that terrorists and militant groups might utilize the web and online social media to communicate. This theory makes sense but terrorists can just as easily meet at a coffee shop. Online meetings can just as easily happen offline. Keep in mind that terrorists have already used email and web-based communication quite successfully. We are making great stides to dilute these efforts.
Being a former Navy SEAL, and having spent much time in Iraq, I see great opportunity from making online infrastructure improvements. Natually, the connectivity issues have to be addressed and infrastructure put in place before these discussions will become a reality. However, we are including business owners, University professors, and investors in these discussions so that once the connection issues are fixed, new business can emerge. One day, Internet marketing will become an option to help local businesses grow and thrive.