About the Auhor: Sean McCormack serves as the Department Spokesman and Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs.
I don’t want to talk about the state of the strategic framework agreement with Iraq or the status of forces agreement. I’ve heard enough about both today, and we’ll hear much more about them and what they mean for the U.S., Iraq, and our relationship in the days, weeks and months ahead. Instead, I want to talk about Blackberries and a wireless network in Baghdad.
For as long as I have been going to Iraq, a bit more than three years now, Blackberries have not worked in Baghdad. Those of you with these electronic tethers know this state cuts both ways, but for us it cut mostly against being able to efficiently do our jobs in limited stays on the ground. I had just grown accustomed to taking the Blackberry from my belt, stuffing it securely in my bag in time for landing at Baghdad International Airport (BIAP), and staying up a few extra hours after leaving Iraq to deal with all the e-mails I had missed while in Iraq. I was about to do the same thing today, when one of my traveling companions let it be known that her Blackberry was working. (I don’t know if she was tipped or had merely forgotten to turn it off before we reached “combat airspace” around Baghdad -- only to make a discovery almost as important to the business traveler as the invention of frequent flyer miles). Much to my delight, I learned that my AT&T powered device also was able to send and receive data. “What happened,” I asked myself as the task of debarking, putting on body armor, and boarding a Blackhawk helicopter was intruded on by contemplating the ramifications of this new state of being.
After getting to the first meeting site at Prime Minister Maliki’s residence, I asked one of the embassy personnel with us what had happened. They said that IRAQNA (Orascom Telecom Iraq Corporation) had happened and that they now had the pleasure of having to answer yet another question from Washington at 2:30 AM in Baghdad just because their Blackberries worked at home. (My first thought was to mention that answering e-mails at obscene hours will only beget more such e-mails but quickly decided my colleague could either figure that out for himself or continue to live a sleepless existence). Baghdad Blackberries had worked for about two months. In celebration and cost savings, our embassy was getting rid of the ubiquitous cell phones with a U.S. area code that served as the only means of mobile communication for civilians. The second surprise awaiting me in Baghdad was a wireless network at the Prime Minister’s office building, which I used to send a blog post to my colleagues in Washington. The journalists traveling with us shared in the good fortune, using the network to file their initial stories from Baghdad without traveling either to our embassy or to a press filing center.
Neither of these small changes will change much in Iraq nor change many opinions for that matter. But for some reason, they struck me as worth sharing. Perhaps it was because the road in Iraq has been such a costly and difficult one, and maybe because progress on big issues has come only recently. However, both of these minor technological advances reinforced the perception formed during the past few trips there that Iraq is moving forward in large and small ways -- though there is a long way to go.