Country Snapshot: Iraq

Marc Jarrett
Of all the territories I have covered so far in my series of snapshots outlining the Internet and telecoms characteristics of each and every country, Iraq most certainly has the lowest Internet penetration so far — a miniscule one percent of its 28m population; it looks like 'shock and awe' did a pretty good job of destroying what little infrastructure they had whilst Saddam still ruled the roost.

Having said that, we have paid webmasters a total of $5,781.35 for sales originating from that country so far. This is not a huge number, admittedly, but it is not too shabby when one considers that 99 percent of its population do not even have access to the web at this time. Now that a semblance of normality returns to this stricken country, there is only one way for this market to go and that's up, up and away.

As for credit card penetration, this mirrors Iraq's Internet: Like most countries in the Middle East, Iraq has long been a cash economy, and card ownership there is negligible.

However, one thing that many Iraqis have access to is a phone. Prior to the conflict, 1.2 million Iraqis subscribed to landline telephone service and much of the telecommunication network was centralized in Baghdad. However, many of the network's switches were damaged during the conflict, and service was disrupted.

When it comes to mobile, just like in the former USSR countries in Eastern Europe just after the Berlin Wall fell back in 1989, Iraq is essentially starting from scratch. Launched in July 2007, Mobitel Iraq is the first mobile 3G operator there.

Since Iraq has no domestic 'premium rate' numbers yet, when a surfer from there calls for a password to enjoy the forbidden fruits of your member's area, he must make a regular International Direct Dial (IDD) call overseas to get it. Since phone companies worldwide are bound by treaty to terminate each other's calls, Iraq Telecom must pay a settlement fee to the telco in the country where the call was 'terminate.' The accrued revenue must, therefore, be split with two phone companies, which is why the payouts are not high (we pay 50 cents per password sold, or eight cents per minute), but this is practically the only way to monetize traffic from Iraq and all countries in that region.

And if you think that the majority of those 10k passwords we sold in Iraq thus far were to horny soldiers, you are mistaken; Since our default call-to-action in Iraq is in Arabic, about 90 percent of the transactions made have been in that language. The remaining 10 percent either had an English browser, or simply took advantage of our 'revert to English' feature.

It is safe to assume that this would have been one of 'our boys,' and I would like to take this opportunity of thanking those of you that use us as a processor in helping make their life whilst serving there just that little bit more bearable!