updated 8/6/2005 9:49:33 AM ET 2005-08-06T13:49:33

The Internet's key oversight agency has quietly authorized Iraq's new government to manage its own domain name, allowing for the restoration of Internet addresses ending in ".iq."

The suffix had been in limbo after the 2002 federal indictment of the Texas-based company that was running it on charges of funneling money to a member of the Islamic extremist group Hamas.

InfoCom Corp., which sold computers and Web services in the Middle East and got the ".iq" assignment in 1997, was convicted in April along with its chief executive and two brothers.

The board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which oversees top-level domains, unanimously approved transferring the ".iq" name to Iraq's telecommunications regulator on July 28.

The decision to award ".iq" came during a private teleconference call among ICANN board members. The approved resolution was quietly posted this week on an inside ICANN Web page — two clicks from the home page — and got little attention until the Web journal Lextext remarked on it Thursday.

On Friday, ICANN posted more details and said Iraq's bid gained credence following a December letter from interim Prime Minster Ayad Allawi backing the National Communications and Media Commission.

ICANN also said InfoCom failed to promote the use of ".iq" or otherwise serve the interests of Iraq's Internet users since it won stewardship of the domain. There have been only a handful of ".iq" addresses assigned, and none currently work.

U.S. and Iraqi officials had urged ICANN to free up ".iq" quickly after the U.S. invasion in 2003, partly so government ministries could standardize their Web addresses. Without use of ".iq," the Iraqi telecommunications regulator was forced to turn to a more generic suffix and use "ncmc-iraq.org," while the Iraq Museum took "the.iraq.museum."

ICANN resisted, though, telling applicants there were too many uncertainties about the stability of Iraq to immediately assign the domain to someone else.

But backed by Allawi's letter, ICANN staff determined last month that the Iraqi regulator "is well-suited to be inclusive of, and accountable to, the Iraq Internet community ... (and) will provide timely and helpful service to the community, in the local languages, and in the local time zone."

ICANN was selected by the U.S. Commerce Department in 1998 as its agent for Internet addressing policies.

A woman who answered a cell phone for Iraq's telecom regulator said no one was available to speak late Friday in Baghdad. Its Web site had little information beyond a page that appeared to be under construction.

Although in the United States, companies and individuals are accustomed to adopting a moniker bearing the global suffixes ".com," ".net," and ".org," largely shunning the country's own ".us," domain names are a source of national pride elsewhere.

Palestinians got ".ps" in 1999, allowing them to avoid using the more cumbersome "ps.int" or sharing Israel's ".il." The European Union, meanwhile, is setting up ".eu" for the region.

More than 260 Internet suffixes are now approved, including recent additions such as ".mobi", targeting mobile services, and ".jobs" for the human resources community.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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