[Marxism] Iraqis assert themselves

Louis Proyect 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

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 
military occupation.

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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