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IRAQ: Extremists threaten new gov't Internet project in universities

BAGHDAD, 27 May 2007 (IRIN) - Islamic extremists who believe that the Internet can spread immoral and un-Islamic behaviour say that they will sabotage plans by the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research to link the country’s science centres electronically and offer free Internet access to students.

“On the Internet, the youth can find different kinds of information, many of which is unhealthy. Couples strike up friendships through the Internet and spread vice,” said Abu Muhammad, who said he is a spokesman for the Islamic Army, an armed insurgent group in Iraq.

“We don’t agree that such services should be offered and will do whatever is needed to prevent this system from working properly in Iraq. Pornographic sites are easily accessible and the youth adopt bad habits which cannot be accepted in an Islamic country,” Abu Muhammad added.

Nearly 200 Internet centres are to be set up in universities across the country with the aim of helping students do their research work.

“The use of the Internet was banned under [former President] Saddam Hussein’s regime. The ban led the country to lag behind in information technology. The current proposal is to improve the culture of our students and help them to acquire more knowledge about what is happening in the rest of the world,” said Hisham Abdul-Azim, a senior official in the education ministry and one of the project designers.

“The threats received from Islamic extremists are unacceptable and we should be strong enough to prevent our country from being backward just because some groups believe that it [the use of the Internet] might hurt their ideology,” Abdul-Azim added.

IRIN asked those who claim to be members of the Islamic Army why they would prevent the use of the Internet in Iraq when their own organisation has a website and they admit to using the Internet themselves.

“Our [Internet] work is only to find methods and information with which we can fight the occupying troops but the youth are using it to look for girlfriends and pornography. Iraq should be kept far away from such terribly disturbing behaviour,” Abu Muhammad said.

With people forced to stay at home as a result of the increase in violence in Iraq, the Internet has been the only source of escape and entertainment available for thousands of families.

“The number of Internet subscribers keeps increasing and the sale of computers has become brisk business in Iraq today. We will have to expand our signals because, unlike before, even small towns now require Internet services,” Muhammad Nouri, Urulink Internet service administrator, told IRIN. Urulink is Iraq’s only Internet provider and is handled by the government.

“Internet subscriptions have nearly tripled when compared to 2004 numbers. For local people, the Internet is the best thing that has happened to them as it gives them a way of forgetting the daily violence and also enables them to communicate with their relatives and friends who have fled the country,” Abdel-Azim said.

However, with the boom in Internet usage in Iraq has come a growing opposition to it by Islamic extremists. Many Internet cafes have been targeted countrywide, especially in areas where extremists are prevalent.

“Many districts were forced to close their Internet centres, which makes it now more important for our project to run as students will have access to the Internet in a safer and calmer environment, in their own college,” Abdel-Azim added.

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Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.



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