Iraqis Use Internet to Survive War
- Iraqis use internet to survive war
By Andrew North
Tuesday, 13 February 2007
BBC News, Baghdad
Consulting Google Earth can help people work out routes to avoid
Google is playing an unlikely role in the Iraq war. Its online
satellite map of the world, Google Earth, is being used to help
people survive sectarian violence in Baghdad.
As the communal bloodshed has worsened, some Iraqis have set up
advice websites to help others avoid the death squads.
One tip - on the Iraq League site, one of the best known - is for
people to draw up maps of their local area using Google Earth's
detailed imagery of Baghdad so they can work out escape routes and
routes to block.
It's another example of the central role technology plays in the
conflict - with the widespread use of mobile phones, satellite
television as well as the internet - by all sides and for many
For some time now, vigilante-style guard forces have been operating
in many neighbourhoods, especially in Sunni areas targeted by Shia
Many Sunnis see the Shia-dominated police forces as just as much of
a threat, because of evidence of their involvement in kidnappings.
So part of the job of the local guards is keeping them out.
With Google Earth, the Iraq League website suggests, people can also
work out the most likely approach of their attackers.
It's thought that insurgents have also used the map site, examining
the detailed images to pick out potential targets.
'Killed or tortured'
The advice on the Iraq League site - which is actually run from the
UK - begins with a warning to avoid being taken in the first place.
"If they arrest you, you will be killed or tortured."
The key thing is not to fall into the wrong hands
The Iraq League says it is aimed at all Iraqis caught up in the
violence, but it is slanted towards the Sunni community.
"If they tell you we just have a few questions and you will be back
in an hour, don't believe them. You will be dead in an hour or
disappear for months," the warning continues.
Who "they" are is rarely spelt out, apart from the occasional
mention of Ministry of Interior patrols.
To avoid arrest, people should give security training to relatives,
says the site. If they see any suspicious activity, they should ring
the local guard force.
How to blend in
People must change their routes all the time. "You must get another
ID," the site continues, with non-Sunni names.
Certain names, such as Abu Bakr or Omar are common among Sunnis -
but can spell instant death in the hands of Shia death squads.
Anything to distinguish sectarian affiliation should be masked.
Long beards, traditionally associated with devout Sunnis, are out.
Shia men keep beards much shorter.
Sunnis wanting to blend in should do the same, says the survival
Other sites tell Sunnis how they can make people think they are
They are advised to hang images of well-known Shia figures in their
homes and shops, such as Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq's most
senior Shia cleric, or Imam Hussein, grandson of the prophet
Muhammad, whose death at Karbala in the 7th Century Shias mourn
Appeals for help
The Iraq League website has another section displaying calls from
relatives for information on missing loved ones.
This is used by both Sunnis and Shias. "Please help me to find my
husband who was kidnapped travelling from Baghdad to Amman," says
one message. "Gunmen seized him because he is a Shia, but they left
my brother and his family because they are Sunni. Please help me."
But it happened more than six months ago.
There was also an offer of help to a girl injured in the eye by a
mortar attack on her school in Baghdad in late January, an incident
widely covered by the media.
"We can provide medical treatment outside Iraq," the writer said.
Perhaps initiatives like this could also begin the process of
restoring peace. But right now, these sites are focused on survival.
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