Salam Pax’ The Clandestine Diary of an Ordinary Iraqi.
This summer I was part of the Digital Methods Initiative, a summer school program that aims to contribute to doing research into the “natively digital”. One of the projects I participated in was: Diagnosing the Condition of Iraq: The web view. The Clandestine Diary of an Ordinary Iraqi (2003), is a nice case to both broaden and ground this research.
The blog ‘Where is Raed?’, from which the book The Clandestine Diary of an Ordinary Iraqi draws most of its content, is a personal account by Salam Pax, a pseudonym of a (at the time of writing) Baghdad based Iraqi. I came relatively late to his ‘Where is Raed?’ blog; the war had already started and the blog was already featured in Wired magazine, when I found out about it through a random blogroll. In his book (and blog) Salam describes his daily lives; his love for Bjork and Massive Attack and his preparations and encounters in the war, starting 6 months before the war and proceeding four months into the actual war. While the overall responses to his blog have been widely varied, ranging from disbelieve and anger to encouragement, to me, the most striking was how much I could relate to his writings. Salam writes about the same music I listen to and uses a somewhat cynical humor I can appreciate. This book is therefore a valuable first hand account on the way an Iraqi man experienced the build up to the war and the war itself.
The ‘Where is Raed?’ blog has an interesting position within the erratic history of the Iraqi web. This history can be split up in three (overlapping) periods. The first, pre-war period is situated in the late 1990s, when the internet started operating in Iraq. In this period the UN imposed trade sanctions that made it very hard for Iraq to get the technical equipment it needed. Also, all the media, including the Iraqi websphere were under strict control of Saddam Hussein, who denied Iraqi citizens internet access points in their homes. In those days the sole internet provider was Uruklink.net, which was owned by the Ministry of Culture and Information (and thus under strict supervision). This way, Saddam Hussein waged a war not only physically but also digitally, opposing not only freedom of speech, but also blocking access to the internet and implementing strict censorship policies.
The second phase of the Iraqi can be described as the the mid-war expansion of the Iraqi internet to international servers, official sites to .org’s and .com’s and the cleansing of Uruklink.net. This period includes Salam Pax ‘Where is Raed?’ blog which is still hosted on blogspot. Salam refers to some of these events of this period in a post on June 1st 2003, when he writes:
“Ya Allah have mercy on our souls. The old state owned Internet center in Adil district has been taken over by anarchists and they are offering internet access for FREE. You just need to dial up a number, no password, no special settings. Whoever heard of anyone doing that?
About week ago a rumor spread that the Adil center has put up a sat dish and will be using the setup the Iraqi government used to have to provide the service. [Uruklink.net] is back. The people who used to work there opened the center 4 days ago; you can have an hour of internet for as little as 2000dinars. Take that you greedy sharks.”
Even though Iraqis obtained more ways for practicing their freedom of speech, the Iraqi government still practiced censorship in case content was “contradictory to Iraqi law”. After the collapse of the former Iraqi regime, partial traces of these websites can be found on the Internet Archive, and in nostalgic recollections of former Iraqi forums. But still, both before and during the war, the small number of Iraqi Websites is striking and Salam Pax blog should be regarded as an exception.
The third and current period started on the 5th of August 2005, when ICANN appointed Iraq’s National Communication and Media Commission as the new controller of the country coded Top Level Domain .iq, which had been frozen for years. An event that is already hinted at in a post on the 23th of May 2003, when Salam writes Talking about the net, I wonder when and who will be the first to use [.iq] in their URL. It was not used by the Iraqis during the days of saddam. While the NCMC now has sole responsibility for the licensing and regulation of the Internet in all of Iraq, the commission still falls under the supervision of Parliament.
This new development was welcomed very positively by Iraqi officials:
“In today’s online era, the two-letter code at the end of a Web address is as important as a flag in lending a sense of legitimacy and pride”.
A sentiment that can be easily recognized within the .iq websphere, since the majority of the sites host the national colors, symbol or flag on their index page, as does Salams blog. Nevertheless, 2 years later it is evident that almost the whole of the .iq domain can be adequately caught within only one simple Google and Yahoo query (site:.iq). Which could be a result of the lack of criteria for obtaining a license for .iq domain, which are rarely issued. With the help of the Whois database we were able to make a database of the .iq web. It is striking that of the 18 indexed .iq sites non are actually registered in Iraq. The fast majority (16 out of 18) is registered in the US, on 8 different addresses, while one url is registered in the UK in Turkey. Apparently still only a little percentage of the Iraqi websphere is hosted within the .iq domain. One could argue that the real domain of Iraq is not based within its country code Domain, but in any url that contains either iraq or iq, anywhere in its string. Salam Pax weblog ‘Where is Raed?’ is therefore even more exceptional.
Pax, Salam. The Clandestine Diary of an Ordinary Iraqi. New York: Grove Press, 2003.