On Thursday, internet behemoth Google launched the domain name google.iq to offer the next generation of pertinent search results for web- savvy Iraqis. Combined with Google’s simultaneous emergence in Tunisia, the new additions mean that Google now has 184 local domains worldwide, with 15 of those in Arab countries.
“ The new domains will help people in Iraq and Tunisia find locally relevant information, faster,” AbdelKarim Mardini, Google’s product manager for the Middle East & North Africa, wrote in a recent blog post. “For example, a search for [central bank] on the Iraq domain yields results relevant to someone in Iraq, such as the Central Bank of Iraq. On the other hand, the same search on the Tunisia domain returns slightly different results.”
The most interesting aspect of the new Google.iq domain is the language support for native Arabic and Kurdish speakers. In keeping with Google’s stated goal of covering the world’s top 40 spoken languages and 99 percent of all Internet users, the company announced its plans to launch more domains in the coming months. Anyone’s guess where and when they’ll emerge.
Here’s hoping the advent of Google in Iraq ups internet usage. It was recently reported that despite a higher mobile penetration since the US invasion, internet penetration in Iraq remains among the lowest in the Middle East. Only 15% of Iraqis said they browse the Internet, and most of these users live in Baghdad.
This low usage is understandable. Under Saddam’s regime, internet access was strictly controlled and very few people were permitted to be online. In 2002, it was estimated that as few as 25,000 Iraqis used the internet. As private companies, NGOs and USAID mend the country’s telecommunications infrastructure, the Iraqi people await the opportunity to explore new land-based Internet access methods. As of 2010, an estimated 5 million Iraqis have access the Internet.