[Marxism] Iraqis assert themselves
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Feb 8 07:41:39 MST 2012
NY Times February 7, 2012
U.S. Planning to Slash Iraq Embassy Staff by Half
By TIM ARANGO
BAGHDAD — Less than two months after American troops left, the State
Department is preparing to slash by as much as half the enormous
diplomatic presence it had planned for Iraq, a sharp sign of declining
American influence in the country.
Officials in Baghdad and Washington said that Ambassador James F.
Jeffrey and other senior State Department officials were reconsidering
the size and scope of the embassy, where the staff has swelled to nearly
16,000 people, mostly contractors.
The expansive diplomatic operation and the $750 million embassy
building, the largest of its kind in the world, were billed as necessary
to nurture a postwar Iraq on its shaky path to democracy and establish
normal relations between two countries linked by blood and mutual
suspicion. But the Americans have been frustrated by what they see as
Iraqi obstructionism and are now largely confined to the embassy because
of security concerns, unable to interact enough with ordinary Iraqis to
justify the $6 billion annual price tag.
The swift realization among some top officials that the diplomatic
buildup may have been ill advised represents a remarkable pivot for the
State Department, in that officials spent more than a year planning the
expansion and that many of the thousands of additional personnel have
only recently arrived.
Michael W. McClellan, the embassy spokesman, said in a statement, “Over
the last year and continuing this year the Department of State and the
Embassy in Baghdad have been considering ways to appropriately reduce
the size of the U.S. mission in Iraq, primarily by decreasing the number
of contractors needed to support the embassy’s operations.”
Mr. McClellan said the number of diplomats — currently about 2,000 — was
also “subject to adjustment as appropriate.”
To make the cuts, he said the embassy was “hiring Iraqi staff and
sourcing more goods and services to the local economy.”
After the American troops departed in December, life became more
difficult for the thousands of diplomats and contractors left behind.
Convoys of food that had been escorted by the United States military
from Kuwait were delayed at border crossings as Iraqis demanded
documentation that the Americans were unaccustomed to providing.
Within days, the salad bar at the embassy dining hall ran low. Sometimes
there was no sugar or Splenda for coffee. On chicken-wing night, wings
were rationed at six per person. Over the holidays, housing units were
stocked with Meals Ready to Eat, the prepared food for soldiers in the
At every turn, the Americans say, the Iraqi government has interfered
with the activities of the diplomatic mission, one they grant that the
Iraqis never asked for or agreed upon. Prime Minister Nuri Kamal
al-Maliki’s office — and sometimes even the prime minister himself — now
must approve visas for all Americans, resulting in lengthy delays.
American diplomats have had trouble setting up meetings with Iraqi
For their part, the Iraqis say they are simply enforcing their laws and
protecting their sovereignty in the absence of a working agreement with
the Americans on the embassy.
“The main issue between Iraqis and the U.S. Embassy is that we have not
seen, and do not know anything about, an agreement between the Iraqi
government and the U.S.,” said Nahida al-Dayni, a lawmaker and member of
Iraqiya, a largely Sunni bloc in Parliament.
Expressing a common sentiment among Iraqis, she added: “The U.S. had
something on their mind when they made it so big. Perhaps they want to
run the Middle East from Iraq, and their embassy will be a base for them
Those suspicions have been reinforced by two murky episodes, one
involving four armed Americans on the streets of Baghdad that Iraqi
officials believe were Central Intelligence Agency operatives and
another when an American helicopter was forced to make an emergency
landing because of an unspecified mechanical failure on the outskirts of
the capital on the banks of the Tigris River.
“The aircraft that broke down raised many questions about the role of
Americans here,” said Ammar al-Hakim, the leader of the Islamic Supreme
Council of Iraq, a leading Shiite political party and social
organization. “So what is the relationship? We’re still waiting for more
The current configuration of the embassy, a 104-acre campus with
adobe-colored buildings, is actually smaller than the original plans
that were drawn up at a time when officials believed that a residual
American military presence would remain in Iraq beyond 2011. For
instance, officials once planned for a 700-person consulate in the
northern city of Mosul, but it was scrapped for budgetary reasons.
Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari met with Mr. Jeffrey last week to
discuss, among other things, the size of the American presence here.
“The problem is with the contractors, with the security arrangements,”
Mr. Zebari said. Mr. Jeffrey will leave the task of whittling down the
embassy to his successor, as officials said he is expected to step down
in the coming weeks.
“We always knew that what they were planning to do didn’t make sense,”
said Kenneth M. Pollack, of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at
the Brookings Institution. “It’s increasingly becoming clear that they
are horribly overstaffed given what they are able to accomplish.”
Mr. Pollack described as unrealistic the State Department’s belief that
it could handle many of the tasks previously performed by the military,
such as monitoring security in northern areas disputed by Arabs and
Kurds, where checkpoints are jointly manned by Iraqi and Kurdish
security forces, and visiting projects overseen by the United States
Agency for International Development.
Americans are also still being shot at regularly in Iraq. At the Kirkuk
airport, an Office of Security Cooperation, which handles weapons sales
to the Iraqis and where a number of diplomats work, is frequently
attacked by rockets fired by, officials believe, members of Men of the
Army of Al Naqshbandi Order, a Sunni insurgent group.
American officials believed that Iraqi officials would be far more
cooperative than they have been in smoothing the transition from a
military operation to a diplomatic mission led by American civilians.
The expansion has exacted a toll on Iraqi ministries, which are keen to
exert their sovereignty after nearly nine years of war and occupation,
and aggravated long-running tensions between the two countries.
The size of the embassy staff is even more remarkable when compared with
those of other countries. Turkey, for instance, which is Iraq’s largest
trading partner and wields more economic influence here than the United
States, employs roughly 55 people at its embassy, and the number of
actual diplomats is in the single digits.
“It’s really been an overload for us, for the Foreign Ministry,” Mr.
Zebari said of the American mission.
The problems with the supply convoys, as well as a wide crackdown on
security contractors that included detentions and the confiscation of
documents, computers and weapons, prompted the embassy to post a notice
on its Web site warning Americans working here that “the government of
Iraq is strictly enforcing immigration and customs procedures, to
include visas and stamps for entry and exit, vehicle registration, and
authorizations for weapons, convoys, logistics and other matters.”
The considerations to reduce the number of embassy personnel, American
officials here said, reflect a belief that a quieter and humbler
diplomatic presence could actually result in greater leverage over Iraqi
affairs, particularly in mediating a political crisis that flared just
as the troops were leaving. Having fewer burly, bearded and tattooed
security men — who are currently the face of America to many Iraqis and
evoke memories of abuses like the shooting deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians
in a Baghdad square in 2007 by private contractors — could help build
trust with Iraqis, these officials believe.
“Iraqis, as individuals, have had bad experiences with these security
firms,” said Latif Rashid, a senior adviser to President Jalal Talabani.
One State Department program that is likely to be scrutinized is an
ambitious program to train the Iraqi police, which is costing about $500
million this year — far less than the nearly $1 billion that the embassy
originally intended to spend. The program has generated considerable
skepticism within the State Department — one of the officials
interviewed predicted that the program could be scrapped later this year
— because of the high cost of the support staff, the inability of police
advisers to leave their bases because of the volatile security situation
and a lack of support by the Iraqi government.
In an interview late last year with the American Office of the Special
Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, a senior official at the
Interior Ministry said the United States should use the money it planned
to spend on the police program “for something that can benefit the
people of the United States.” The official, Adnan al-Asadi, predicted
the Iraqis would receive “very little benefit” from the program.
Reducing the size of the embassy might have the added benefit of
quieting the anti-Americanism of those who violently opposed the
Moktada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric who has steadfastly railed against
American influence here and whose militia fought the American military,
has recently told his followers that the United States has failed to
Mr. Sadr recently posted a statement on his Web site that read, “I ask
the competent authorities in Iraq to open an embassy in Washington,
equivalent to the size of the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, in order to maintain
the prestige of Iraq.”
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