When we visited Baghdad in April, Jared Cohen from the State Department emphasized the trip would only be successful if we were able to help with deliverables, not just talk. Well, Google has been hard at work and this week was able to announce two amazing initiatives.
1) Google will work to scan and digitize the artifacts of the Iraqi National Museum, an awesome collection of some of the Middle East’s oldest artifacts.
2) The Government of Iraq has set up a YouTube channel. When in Baghdad, government officials stressed to me how important communication and transparency would be in this new era to build trust among citizens and help the world understand Iraq’s evolution. We at YouTube are incredible proud to support this effort and make available the tools they need to broadcast themselves to the world.
My passport looks way cooler now. As part of the first New Media Tech Delegation to Baghdad I spent a week in Iraq this past April. Still processing what we do next to help Iraqi citizens employ technology in their transformation to free market democracy. Will write more about the actual trip soon but wanted to talk about one experience first.
We had amazing access during our stay in Baghdad and made it to a few historical/cultural landmarks, including the crossed swords “Hands of Victory
” built as a tribute to victory over Iran in the Iran/Iraq war.
Viewing a monument to an incredibly bloody war during a time when Iraq is still coming to grips with its own security was pretty emotional. The hands grasping the swords are supposedly molded from Saddam’s own impressions and the helmets at the base of the statues are from killed Iranian soldiers. Gruesome note – these helmets also appear to be used in speed bump-like strips in the road alongside the statues. The swords themselves frame the soccer stadium where Saddam fired off his gun into the air before crowds.
Given this context there was definitely solemnity in our visit despite the surprising friendliness of the Iraqi soldiers guarding the site, which is off-limits to most people. One of the monument’s hands is missing – after Saddam’s fall dismantling the statue started but was abruptly halted. The result is haunting – it suggests transition – a bridge between what was and what will be. And behind the missing hand you see the fragile infrastructure which was otherwise wrapped in the curled steel of a symbolic fist. Another metaphor for what Iraq is going through in rebuilding.