U.S. Building Its Largest Embassy in Iraq
By CHARLES J. HANLEY, AP Special
The fortress-like compound rising beside the
Tigris River here will
be the largest of its kind in the world, the size of Vatican City, with
the population of a small town, its own defense force, self-contained
power and water, and a precarious perch at the heart of Iraq's
The new U.S. Embassy also seems as cloaked
in secrecy as the ministate in Rome.
"We can't talk about it. Security reasons,"
Roberta Rossi, a
spokeswoman at the current embassy, said when asked for information
about the project.
A British tabloid even told readers the
location was being kept
secret — news that would surprise Baghdadis who for months have watched
the forest of construction cranes at work across the winding Tigris, at
the very center of their city and within easy mortar range of anti-U.S.
forces in the capital, though fewer explode there these days.
The embassy complex — 21 buildings on 104
acres, according to a U.S.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee report — is taking shape on
riverside parkland in the fortified "Green Zone," just east of
al-Samoud, a former palace of Saddam Hussein's, and across the road
from the building where the ex-dictator is now on trial.
The Republican Palace, where U.S. Embassy
functions are temporarily
housed in cubicles among the chandelier-hung rooms, is less than a mile
away in the 4-square-mile zone, an enclave of American and Iraqi
government offices and lodgings ringed by miles of concrete barriers.
The 5,500 Americans and Iraqis working at
the embassy, almost half
listed as security, are far more numerous than at any other U.S.
mission worldwide. They rarely venture out into the "Red Zone," that
is, violence-torn Iraq.
This huge American contingent at the center
of power has drawn criticism.
"The presence of a massive U.S. embassy — by
far the largest in the
world — co-located in the Green Zone with the Iraqi government is seen
by Iraqis as an indication of who actually exercises power in their
country," the International Crisis Group, a European-based research
group, said in one of its periodic reports on Iraq.
State Department spokesman Justin Higgins
defended the size of the
embassy, old and new, saying it's indicative of the work facing the
United States here.
"It's somewhat self-evident that there's
going to be a fairly
sizable commitment to Iraq by the U.S. government in all forms for
several years," he said in Washington.
Higgins noted that large numbers of
non-diplomats work at the
mission — hundreds of military personnel and dozens of FBI agents, for
example, along with representatives of the Agriculture, Commerce and
other U.S. federal departments.
They sleep in hundreds of trailers or
scattered around the Green Zone. But next year embassy staff will move
into six apartment buildings in the new complex, which has been under
construction since mid-2005 with a target completion date of June 2007.
Iraq's interim government transferred the
land to U.S. ownership in
October 2004, under an agreement whose terms were not disclosed.
"Embassy Baghdad" will dwarf new U.S.
embassies elsewhere, projects
that typically cover 10 acres. The embassy's 104 acres is six times
larger than the United Nations compound in New York, and two-thirds the
acreage of Washington's National Mall.
Original cost estimates ranged over $1
billion, but Congress
appropriated only $592 million in the emergency Iraq budget adopted
last year. Most has gone to a Kuwait builder, First Kuwaiti Trading
& Contracting, with the rest awarded to six contractors working on
the project's "classified" portion — the actual embassy offices.
Higgins declined to identify those builders,
citing security reasons, but said five were American companies.
The designs aren't publicly available, but
the Senate report makes
clear it will be a self-sufficient and "hardened" domain, to function
in the midst of Baghdad power outages, water shortages and continuing
It will have its own water wells,
electricity plant and
wastewaster-treatment facility, "systems to allow 100 percent
independence from city utilities," says the report, the most
authoritative open source on the embassy plans.
Besides two major diplomatic office
buildings, homes for the
ambassador and his deputy, and the apartment buildings for staff, the
compound will offer a swimming pool, gym, commissary, food court and
American Club, all housed in a recreation building.
Security, overseen by U.S. Marines, will be
setbacks and perimeter no-go areas that will be especially deep,
structures reinforced to 2.5-times the standard, and five high-security
entrances, plus an emergency entrance-exit, the Senate report says.
Higgins said the work, under way on all
parts of the project, is more than one-third complete.