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[casi] Wired: U.S. Tries E-Mail to Charm Iraqis

I hope this is of general usefulness to Colin & the List.  BG.


U.S. Tries E-Mail to Charm Iraqis,2100,57648,00.html

By Michelle Delio

A campaign to reach out and touch the Iraqi people through e-mail apparently hasn't been as 
successful as the United States had hoped, because the Iraqi government censors all e-mail coming 
into the country.

Over the past month, the U.S. military has periodically sent e-mail to Iraqi military and 
government officials urging them to protect their families by helping U.N. inspectors and turning 
away from Saddam Hussein.

U.S. government officials won't comment on the campaign, but according to sources in Iraq and 
Iraqis living in the United States, each time the e-mails are sent, Internet access all over Iraq 
soon suffers a "service outage." Service resumes after the U.S. military missives have been purged 
from inboxes.

The e-mails, written in Arabic with the subject line "Important Information," are a new twist on 
the standard psychological war games conducted by U.S. special operations teams.

Such messages warning citizens of targeted countries about impending military actions are typically 
disseminated by way of leaflets or recordings broadcast from planes flying over the target country.

"This is the first acknowledged use of e-mail as part of an offensive information operation," said 
William Knowles, senior analyst with, a security and intelligence site. "I suspect it's 
been used in the past in countries whose infrastructure included the Internet.

"While it's a neat tool, there's only so many times it can be used before the Iraqi leadership 
considers it as much of a nuisance as the Nigerian 419 scam mail," Knowles added.

The most recent e-mails, sent in early February, urge Iraqis to disobey any orders they may receive 
to deploy chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, and encourage them to identify instead the 
locations of such weapons to inspectors or to destroy the weapons.

Officially, e-mail and Net connectivity in Iraq is only available through the government-owned, 
heavily censored service.

Iraqi scholars, scientists and government officials pay $50 a year for e-mail subscriptions with 
uruklink, which in theory allows them private access to the Net and e-mail communications through 
their home or work computers.

The rest of the population gets online at one of about three dozen Internet centers across the 

But according to sources who have lived in or who have family living in Iraq, obtaining Internet 
access in Iraq isn't difficult. All you need is a phone line, a government ID card and cash.

"It's the cash that gets in the way of people getting e-mail service. And the fact that Iraq is not 
a very computer literate land," wrote Salam, a blogger who claims to live in Baghdad.

Web-based e-mail accounts from U.S. providers are officially prohibited by U.N. sanctions, but 
Iraqis seem to have no problem signing up for Yahoo and Hotmail accounts.

However one connects, e-mail is neither private nor reliable in Iraq. Users expect the service to 
go down frequently, and assume that Iraqi officials are reading at least some of their e-mail.

According to Salam and other sources, within 15 minutes of the e-mails from the U.S. military 
arriving in inboxes, uruklink "went down while the contents of mailboxes were deleted."

"Everyone wants to see what was that e-mail like," Salam wrote in a recent blog entry. "Me thinks 
the entire Internet service will be axed soon."

Iraqis living in the United States also fear that Internet service might be shut off in Iraq soon. 
They said it has been particularly difficult to reach their families over the last week by e-mail.

Sharar Pachachi, an Iraqi living in New York, attempts to keep in touch with his sisters in Iraq by 
e-mail, but said that out of a dozen e-mails, only two or three typically get through.

"Lately it is even worse," he said. "I cannot say much to my sisters by e-mail, as I know it will 
be read by other eyes, but at least I can know they are alive and as well as God wills. But this 
week, I get no replies to any e-mails."

Iraq now blocks virtually all e-mail originating from U.S. Internet addresses. Some Iraqi 
immigrants sign up with non-U.S. ISPs to get around the policy.

Iraq also blocks access to vast portions of the Web using content-filtering software from 8e6 
Technologies, an American company. The company has repeatedly denied selling the software to Iraq, 
but reporters and Iraqis said the Access Denied message that pops up on screens when they attempt 
to connect with forbidden websites contains a reference to 8e6 Technologies.

Iraq began offering its citizens access to the Internet three years ago. Before that, Iraqi 
newspapers described the Internet as "the end of civilizations, cultures, interests and ethics," 
and officials claimed the United States uses the Internet "to dominate the world by entering into 
every household," according to an Associated Press translation of an editorial in the Iraqi 
government newspaper Al-Jumhuriya.

Nevertheless, the Iraqi government wired the country's larger cities with high-speed fiber optic 
cable several years ago.

At Iraqi Internet centers, sending and receiving e-mail costs about 15 cents per message; an hour 
of Web browsing costs $1. The average Iraqi's salary is about $120 a month.

Despite sanctions prohibiting their import, personal computers are widely available in Iraq. A 
decent computer costs about $500.

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