Post-war Iraq seen as big potential IT market

Even without the ruin of a new war, years of sanctions and earlier military fights have left Iraq with primitive commercial,...

Even without the ruin of a new war, years of sanctions and earlier military fights have left Iraq with primitive commercial, financial and healthcare IT systems. But if Iraq emerges from the US-led conflict a free and open society, it could become a major technology market for IT companies, experts believe.

"Every business-minded person is looking at Iraq after the war because it is a very rich country," said Riad Safar, who directs Middle East and North Africa operations for enterprise systems company Stratus Technologies. "The needs are tremendous." 

Stratus expected to focus on a horizontal market instead of vertical segments, because it saw ubiquitous need for its systems in Iraq after any military actions have ended. 

Safar said he believed Iraq's market potential, as it moves to replace out-of-date business and health systems, is bigger than that of many of its neighbours, including Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and perhaps Saudi Arabia.

"I think it's going to be huge market," said Adel Ahmid, a senior official at Kuwait-based systems integrator International Turnkey Systems, a Sun Microsystems partner. 

Iraq today has little technology, said Ahmid. "It's like an empty place; you have to fill it out." 

One measure of Iraq's technological isolation is internet use. Matrix NetSystems, which measures internet performance, said that while the number of internet hosts exceeded 200 million last year, there are none in Iraq. Moreover, there is only one domain with the Iraq country code "iq", which is registered in the United Arab Emirates. 

A US Department of Commerce official pointed out that Iraq's potential will "depend on the nature of the post-Saddam regime, its openness and tolerance".

Less-open regimes have proven less adept at integrating IT and communications infrastructures.

Moreover, no one knows whether Saddam Hussein will act in ways that could make rebuilding the nation difficult, such as spiking oil wells or using nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. 

While any war will create questions about Iraq's future, the nation has the population and wealth to finance an IT upgrade. Iraq has a population of 24 million, a literacy rate of nearly 60% - and vast oil reserves. 

There does promise to be a limited bonanza for IT companies in the longer term, said Gartner analyst Dan Miklovic. Iraq has been relying on no-name PC clones and has been unable to buy enterprise servers from US firms. Much of its software is several releases old, and the country is heavily dependent on pirated software. 

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