Surviving the Iraq War with Google

Iraqis use internet to survive war
By Andrew North
BBC News, Baghdad

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 purposes.

For some time now, vigilante-style guard forces have been operating in many neighbourhoods, especially in Sunni areas targeted by Shia militias.

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 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 spelled 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.

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