Archive for Sunday, August 24, 2003

Internet access returns to Iraq

August 24, 2003

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— The first words Ahmed Abdullah typed in the Google search engine were "George Bush."

The 19-year-old wanted to access the president's Web site, something he couldn't do under restricted and tightly controlled Internet service during Saddam Hussein's rule.

Saturday, Saddam's hometown of Tikrit got its first postwar Internet cafe, where residents could browse any site without fear of being monitored or blocked.

"I like it. It's beautiful. There is so much information I can get," Abdullah said, surrounded by U.S. soldiers and commanders who crammed the one-room Internet cafe they had helped set up with $24,000 from the 4th Infantry Division's budget.

The owner, Hashim Hassan, 33, ran a similar cafe for two years before the war. But in those times, "any political sites, opposition or sex pages, were blocked. Now there are no restrictions."

For Tikrit's young men -- no women were sitting by the computers -- browsing the Net for $1 an hour is an opportunity to learn, see and explore things unavailable until now.

The cafe has had up to 30 visitors a day since it started operating five days ago, Hashim Hassan said.

U.S. Maj. Troy Rader said the satellite connection and equipment was bought in the United Arab Emirates city of Dubai and the work took four months to complete, including the repairs from last week's ambush and a relocation of the office.

"This is the first private, non-government-run Internet cafe in town," he said, adding similar projects were planned for Baiji, Samarra and ad-Dawr -- all towns in the region patrolled by the 4th Infantry.

Other favorite sites? Anything that offers clues where Saddam might be hiding. Searching for "Saddam Hussein" was Abdullah's second choice.

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