In April 2009, I had the honor of joining leaders from Twitter, Howcast, WordPress, Meetup, Blue State Digital, Google, YouTube and Wired Magazine on a State Department technology delegation to Baghdad. Our goal was to look at ways that communications technologies could help improve civil society in Iraq. This trip was part of the innovative work being done by Jared Cohen, Alec Ross and others within the State Department to leverage the power of mobile phones and social networking to engage citizens throughout the world in modern diplomacy or, in the words of Secretary Clinton, “21st Century Statecraft.”

One of the highlights of the experience was visiting several of Iraq’s finest universities and meeting with many bright technology students. In speaking with the students, we recognized a great opportunity for the students to come to the US to work for American technology companies so they could get experience applying their IT skills for companies in the private sector and ideally develop ideas for starting businesses upon their return to Iraq.

I’m very pleased that the State Department has turned this idea into a reality. In her October 20th speech at the U.S.-Iraq Business and Investment Conference, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the launch of the first-ever Iraqi IT Internship Program. And today, we couldn’t be more pleased to announce AT&T’s participation in this pilot effort.

AT&T will be hosting Sadeq Hamid Shnaishel and Sarbast Majeed Rashid, two exceptional young IT professionals from Iraq. Sadeq and Sarbast will be joining our St. Louis application development office, where they’ll be further developing their IT and leadership skills, while seeing how an American business operates. We’re also planning lots of activities such as meetings with local universities, St. Louis business leaders and elected officials. And as we show them American culture St. Louis style, we might even turn them into Cardinals fans!

All six Iraqis arrived in DC last week for initial meetings at the State Department. On Thursday, we hosted a tour at AT&T’s Innovation Center to show them some of our cutting-edge and pending technologies. The excitement they all shared with being in the US and participating in the program was fabulous to see.

We’re excited to see what this program brings to the table – we hope that Sadeq and Sarbast bring new perspectives and outlooks to AT&T that will prove valuable for us. We also look forward to having Sadeq and Sarbast teach AT&T employees about Iraqi culture, as they learn about ours.

In her recent “Internet Freedom” speech, Secretary Clinton spoke about how technology can empower citizens and leverage our traditional diplomacy. We are excited to participate in the Iraqi internship program, which we hope will be a factor in helping strengthen connections between Americans and Iraqis.

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