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State Dept. Hosting High-Tech Execs in Iraq

By Ed O'Keefe

Several executives from well-known high tech firms are in Iraq this week as guests of the State Department, part of an effort to boost the use of online and social media in the war-torn country.

While in Iraq, the tech representatives will meet with government officials, educators and other community leaders to talk about how their technologies can be used to help boost transparency, accountability and anti-corruption efforts. The delegation arrived Sunday and will be in the country through Thursday, according to State Department acting spokesman Robert Wood.

"As Iraqis think about how to integrate new technology as a tool for smart power, we view this as an opportunity to invite American technology industry to be part of this creative genesis," Wood said during Monday's daily press briefing.

Among those traveling as part of the first-of-its-kind delegation is Twitter chairman and founder Jack Dorsey.

"The embassy has yoga classes. And belly dancing," Dorsey tweets, in reference to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

"Cell phone usage here is massive and the velocity is increasing," he adds. "17.5 million mobiles. 85% penetration. The infrastructure is overwhelmed. Only 0.06% Internet penetration." (You can also follow the action on Dorsey's Flickr feed.)

Richard Robbins, AT&T's director of social innovation, is also along for the trip and quoted/tweeted Iraq's deputy prime minister: "The only way I can get through cabinet meetings that are long and boring is looking at my iPhone."

Blue State Digital vice president David Nassar summed up the first few hours of the trip: "What a day. Flight to Baghdad, no food for 14 hours, then huge meal with Iraqi General. Trying to absorb everything."

But later he tweeted that the "Highlight of today by far was meeting a brave young Private and having him show us around his vehicle."

Dorsey, Robbins and Nassar are traveling with Jason Lieberman founder and CEO of the "how to" video site Howcast, MeetUp CEO Scott Heiferman, Raanan Bar-Cohen, vice president of blog engine WordPress, Kannan Pashupathy, Google's director of international engineering operations, Ahmad Hamzawi, Google's Head of Engineering for the Middle East and Africa and Hunter Walk, head of product development for YouTube.

President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and just about every other presidential contender used many of the technologies provided by the companies represented on the trip for outreach, organizing and fundraising during the 2008 campaign. Since Obama's victory, several tech leaders have met with transition and administration officials to explore ways to collaborate and adapt their technologies to governing.

The delegation travels to Iraq as Foggy Bottom continues to expand its online presence. Clinton hosted a digital town hall while in the Dominican Republic last week and officials regularly update the Dipnote blog. It also has an active YouTube channel and launched Exchanges Connect last year, a social media site for anyone interested in global affairs. The Obama team has adapted its use of social media during the presidential campaign to governing, earning early praise for turning the president's weekly radio address into an Internet affair.

By Ed O'Keefe  | April 21, 2009; 6:06 AM ET
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Great idea the Department of State demonstrates with this visit of executives. Prior efforts in Iraq, hosted by the DoD, were scatterred efforts with no focus.

Posted by: BeenThere17 | April 21, 2009 10:58 AM | Report abuse

It's Jason Liebman, not Lieberman.

Posted by: jbenyehuda | April 22, 2009 8:39 AM | Report abuse

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