The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad's Facebook page had over 800 fans as of Thursday.
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updated 1/21/2010 3:47:45 PM ET 2010-01-21T20:47:45

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is looking for Iraqi friends on Facebook.

The embassy launched the page Thursday with the aim of reaching out to Iraqis who want to learn more about American culture and society, the latest step by the State Department to boost interest in Iraq's burgeoning online culture and promote Web entrepreneurship.

The State Department has organized a number of high-profile visits to Iraq in recent months by top executives from Google, Twitter, AT&T and others. Recently, the embassy assisted in setting up a YouTube channel for the Iraqi government.

The Facebook page launch came the same day U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a speech about Internet freedom and its place in U.S. foreign policy. The embassy rolled out the page after a two-month test run on Facebook, said Philip Frayne, an embassy spokesman in Baghdad.

"We didn't get 2 million fans," he said. "The natural audience for embassy Facebook pages is not enormous."

But by late Thursday, the page had more than 800 fans — nearly matching the number of Facebook fans of the U.S. Embassy in London.

More than 170 U.S. diplomatic missions around the world have Facebook pages, according to the State Department.

Chief among the Baghdad page's attractions is the "English Language Corner" where Iraqis can learn how to use English-language expressions such as "once in a blue moon."

In the coming weeks, Frayne said the page will spotlight American music, sports and holidays.

Anyone can post questions and comments on the page, though it is monitored for inappropriate content, Frayne said.

"If it is pornographic or inciting violence, we have the ability to take it down," he said.

So will the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad follow up with a Twitter account in a country where cellular telephone service is routinely spotty and Internet access often nonexistent?

"I don't know," Frayne said. "Cell phone coverage in Iraq is not great."

Under former dictator Saddam Hussein, Internet access was limited to just one provider, and e-mail and phone calls were monitored and censored by the Ministry of Communications and security agencies.

After Saddam was toppled in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, dozens of wireless Internet providers started business and hundreds of Internet cafes were opened in the capital, Baghdad, and other provinces.

While Internet coverage is relatively limited thanks in large part to routine power outages and limited provider availability, the number of Iraqis accessing the Web has been increasing at a rapid rate.

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