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us technology delegation looks for Iraqi engagement

Saad Salloum
In late April 2009, the American Embassy in Baghdad hosted a technology delegation, composed of U.S government officials and representatives of large U.S information technology (IT) companies. The delegation sought…
7.05.2009  |  Baghdad

Niqash met Jared Cohen, a member of U.S Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Policy Planning Staff and head of the delegation, to discuss the visit. Cohen is charged with coming up with policy proposals related to youth in the Islamic world, as well as ways of using technology and electronic media developments to confront extremism.

Niqash: What are the reasons for the delegation’s visit to Baghdad?

Cohen: The Secretary of State is organizing this visit for the first time to get acquainted with available opportunities in Iraq. The visiting delegation is composed of representatives of distinguished technological companies and we met with many people in Iraq. We met Jalal Talabani, the President of the Republic, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and a number of ministers. We also had discussions with the Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh and with al-Maliki’s advisors. Additionally, we met with people representing the academic sector such as those working in Baghdad University and the Technology University.

It is a field visit to assess realities and coordinate with IT companies in Iraq. It aims at reaching joint action and cooperation and establishing fruitful collaboration. We were very touched by Iraqi hospitality and were very well received by Iraqis. We now feel it is important to work with the Iraqi people.

Niqash: What did you achieve by meeting with Iraqi government officials?

Cohen: In our discussions with President Talabani, we raised a very important issue related to the huge challenges in the field of information technology. On the other hand we also discussed the many opportunities which we explored during discussions with those responsible for educational institutions and with university students in particular. In relation to the private sector, we have seen several examples of successful experiences which are considered as indicators of significant economic development.

Niqash: One of the stated objectives of your visit is to strengthen civil society. Why did you not meet with non-governmental organizations (NGOs)?

Cohen: This is not true. We met a group of young people who established NGOs and with some university professors who are also members of NGOs. We also met with business owners who have activities that fall within the activities of NGOs such as Zain [an Iraqi mobile phone firm], a profit-making company that also supports the work of NGOs by sponsoring the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra. We also met a group of individuals who are involved in the reconstruction of the Iraqi National Museum and other people who are members of cultural organizations.

Niqash: So your visit does not aim simply to establish business, conclude deals and make profit?

Cohen: It is important for people to know that we are not here to make profit, and our visit is not business-related. Representatives from companies came to provide technical support and they are not businessmen but specialists and technical people. The first thing we need to do to understand what is happening in Iraq is to listen. No one can understand Iraqi society and its technical needs more than Iraqis themselves. So, we are here to listen and learn.

Niqash: Can you assess the level of Iraqi interaction with technological developments?

Cohen: We heard that before 2003 there was no mobile phone service in Iraq and that people didn’t have access to the internet. If we look at Iraq today, one can see a significant change. We understand that there are many challenges, but if we look at the development of the telecommunication and internet sectors and we can see that the future is very promising and there are lots of good opportunities.

Niqash: Did you feel that the Iraqi government is ready to accept the idea of e-government?

Cohen: Yes, there is a great desire to do so and this reflects progress. A democratic government is transparent, one in which people can make their voices heard and the government can reach out to them. The Iraqi government has the will to start the e-government project.

Niqash: Were any guarantees given by the Iraqi government regarding technological investment in Iraq?

Cohen: During our meetings with Iraqi government officials we discussed investment. Officials spoke about the country’s intentions to attract investment – this is one of the aims of the government and we share the same goal. But, before achieving this goal some steps need to be taken and some perceptions changed. There are good examples of successful investments in Iraq. These successful models should be made known to international companies to encourage them to come to Iraq. We highlighted this issue during our meetings with Iraqi government officials.