Baghdad Day 3

A few things that jumped out during our third day here in Baghdad:
– Not surprised to see Windows XP on all machines being used at various government offices, but was surprised to see that they were all running in English language mode.
– Way too much focus on custom proprietary software projects VS using off-the-shelf available tools. This is because of how gov’t grants and budgets work here. Lots of parallels to western giov’t as well unfortunately.
Strong belief out here that you need to host you own, and run your own email system at great cost. Data centers alone are very expensive, not to mention the constant power outages and grid issues. The Iraqis we met seemed embarrassed to admit that they use Yahoo mail and Gmail — while I encouraged them and told them just the opposite — that hosted services were a smart way to go about this and a cheap/free and robust way to get up and running quickly.
Very clear that Iraqis living in the West right now could play a big role in helping Iraq – with funding and by moving back. Examples include the fact that 10K Iraqi doctors work in the UK, and that an Iraqi billionaires living in the West has so far been reluctant to invest until clear rules and regulations, transparency, and ease of doing business are a reality on the ground.
99.% of mobile users in Iraq are on pre pay. Payment gateways, banks, etc are all behind — it’s a cash society right now. But mobile companies are setting up mobile banking, and many agencies and companies are using mobile banking to speed up payments and deal with corruption ( since direct payments skip the middleman ).
– To get decent internet access to the home right now can cost around $400/month for VSAT – Satellite internet.
– Very clear that Iraq gov’t plans on putting guidelines in place, but will also run and operate many new state owned companies. Not that surprising given the petro state dictatiorship that has been in place here until very recently. US Model is for gov’t to set guidelines and perhaps regulation, but have private companies do the actual work in most sectors. Huge difference in thought here and potentially a real barrier to improving the private sector.
– We met with some of the top students of Iraq, many who had studied in the US or were planning on attending US universities this fall. Overall they were great and really inspiring and impressive in their own right. A very high percentage of them, when asked what they dreamed of doing, responded that their ideal job would be to work for the Iraqi government. Only a couple of them had interest in working in the private sector, let alone starting their own companies. The feedback we heard was that private sector jobs are perceived as ones where you work in a shop or “for your uncle” — where a gov’t job provided stability, even at a lower salary in some cases, and a big gov’t pension.
– Along the same lines as the gov’t jobs, many students and others blamed the government for almost every issue from power, to internet access. Every problem, in their minds, had a government solution. Yet the perceptions for the students in particular, was that the gov’t was not responsive, didn’t listen, and wasn’t open to any feedback. Nearly nobody had faith or energy in seeing the private sector here tackle these issues.

I’m uploading a few new photos to my flickr, including a few shots from the recently opened Iraqi Museum.

9 thoughts on “Baghdad Day 3

  1. Hi ,

    I do agree with a 100% on all these points you made , employees in state owned companies here are embarrassed of using hotmail , yahoo and gmail free accounts but what to do you cannot host your own mail servers because you need electricity although there are generators but that needs manual maintainance and more costs (ie. fuel …etc)

    One of the obstecls is that there are no professional companies either state owned or private that are capabel of providing fast internet access and it is very expensive , for instance you can buy an EVDO connection for 150$/month with an allowed capacity of 2GBs only a month and it will cost you about 300$ to buy the usb modem.

    There is not internet in schools , collages or universities and even if there is internet then it is provided by VSAT connections owners who have contracts with the ministry of education , actually they don’t implement wireless systems in collages so thta students can access via WIFI compatible laptops , they build internet cafes as the internet is owned by a 3rd party company not by the university or not even implemented for it , i.e. these contractors can take away their service anytime they like and that all happened in many sectors not only education.

    As for a normal internet user , we all use wireless connection provided by VSAT connection owners (resellers) and it is like a big chain that end up in Germany or Dubai LOL 🙂

    What we need here is something we can trust and rely on with fair and reasonable prices.

  2. Ali Wasati says:

    Hi

    i completely agree with you also. I’m an Iraqi who lives in London. I’m an accountant and have western corporate values of hard work, ethical behaviour and ambition.

    I would love to get a job in Iraq in order to help rebuild the old country. But have no idea on how to do that. Most Foreign firms have not started to operate yet in Iraq.

    It would be great if something can be done about this.

    Thanks man, keep us updated

    Ali Wasati (aliwasati@yahoo.co.uk)

  3. hello Raanan,

    I am Helen, one of the students that were there. I just wanted to say that it was great to meet you and i hope you enjoyed your stay in Baghdad and that you have a safe trip back home. reading your blog encourages me to start my own blog, i think there is alot going on that needs to be told! i already have written some blogs on myspace and i have my readers but i don’t write regularily!! i have to make this short because i have a test tomorrow at college so i thought i would give you my email add. so that we can stay in touch

    best wishes
    -Helen

    • Hi Helen —

      Great to meet you as well and glad you left a comment here. Wonderful to hear that you will get more into blogging — more people need to hear from smart people like yourself.

      Good luck with your studies and please keep in touch.

  4. kellypretzer says:

    Raanan,
    Just read this and checked out your Flickr. What an amazing trip! It’s always eye-opening to see images of Iraq that aren’t from major news networks. I appreciate the work you’ve done and letting us tag along for the ride.

    Cheers, Kelly

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