New Embassy Digs Debut in Baghdad

U.S. Amb. Ryan Crocker, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, and Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte at dedication ceremony for new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq (photo from state.gov)

Yesterday, U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker officially dedicated the new American Embassy in Baghdad in the presence of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte. Iraqi dignitaries and close to 1,000 invited guests witnessed the U.S. Marine Security Guard detachment ceremonially raise the American flag in front of the Embassy’s main Chancery Building. This was accompanied by a rendition of the U.S. National Anthem and music from the U.S. Army 4th Infantry Division Band.

According to the official news release from Foggy Bottom, this is the largest American Embassy structure to date, and its scale reflects the importance of the U.S.-Iraq bilateral relationship. Construction began in 2005 and was completed in 2008 at a total cost of $592 million. More than 1,200 U.S. diplomats, service members and government officials and staff from 14 federal agencies work and live on the Embassy compound.

We’ve never had an embassy quite like this ever. In fact when I read the open source description of this compound, it reminds me a lot more of the military base where I used to shop back in Virginia than any diplomatic compound. Well, it’s a diplomatic compound in a war zone, so what can you expect? Some vital stats are in order, I think:

Construction work – 2005-2008

Claim to fame: Most expensive diplomatic outpost in the world

Total cost – $592 million
(VOA is reporting more than $600million, USAToday is reporting $700million)

Operating cost – reportedly $1.2 billion annually
(One US official said the cost of running the new complex is expected to be so exorbitant that the US will be forced to rent out part of the space)

Buildings: 21 buildings

Embassy compound size: 104 acres
(For comparison, the Vatican City covers 108.7 acres, the United Nations compound in New York is 17 acres and the Washington’s National Mall covers 309.2 acres; and new embassy compound projects elsewhere typically cover 10 acres)

Blast-resistant apartments: 619

Helipad: 1

Morale Welfare Recreation Facilities (a military term but I don’t think DOS has yet come up with a name that corresponds to MWR; definitely can’t call these CLO facilities). According to press reports, the following facilities are available inside the compound:

Tennis courts (read about tennis and other courts at the NEC from Ed in Brigantine here)

Landscaped swimming pool

Pool house

Recreation Center (bomb-resistant with well-equipped gym; see pictures here)

Department store

Community Center

Beauty Salon

Movie theater

American Club

It sounds to me like the only things missing are: a chapel, a school (it reportedly is in the plans) and a playground. William Langewiesche in The Mega-Bunker of Baghdad (Vanity Fair, November 2007) writes:

“[…] compound is largely self-sustaining, and contains its own power generators, water wells, drinking-water treatment plant, sewage plant, fire station, irrigation system, Internet uplink, secure intranet, telephone center (Virginia area code), cell-phone network (New York area code), mail service, fuel depot, food and supply warehouses, vehicle-repair garage, and workshops. At the core stands the embassy itself, a massive exercise in the New American Bunker style, with recessed slits for windows, a filtered and pressurized air-conditioning system against chemical or biological attack, and sufficient office space for hundreds of staff. Both the ambassador and deputy ambassador have been awarded fortified residences grand enough to allow for elegant diplomatic receptions even with the possibility of mortar rounds dropping in from above. “

Wouldn’t you want to be in an embassy like this during a pandemic when official Americans overseas will be ordered to “shelter in place?

Anyway, Ed in Brigantine posted something about the new embassy compound last year and I thought this would be a good time to revisit his post:

“did a tour of the new embassy compound. you can read much about it in a vanity fair article of some months ago, but ed’s scoop: nice apartments, good office space, lots of creature comforts unheard of at most embassies (indoor pool, gyms, weight/exercise room, concession space for burger king, etc., etc..) but, as we cannot go out and shop on the local economy [a]s we would normally do, well, everything must be provided inside the hardened structures where we’ll live and work. sucha shame – most people in the foreign service like to get out with the locals – shopping in the souk, buying brochettes from street vendors in conakry, water from vendors in the djma il fna in marrakesh, etc. but, to keep us safe, we’ll here be behind the walls and isolated away from the populace – rather self-defeating of public diplomacy efforts.

still, it is a nice complex, though the line of site babyon hotel and nearby apartment complex will give snipers a great opportunity – though they’d likely get to do that only once, and not live to regret it.”


Ed in Brigantine
(occasional comments about living and working in Beautiful Baghdad, the Mesopotamian Metropolis between the Rivers) has not posted anything after May 30, 2008. I am presuming that he has now rotated out of Iraq. He has some photos of the NEC from May 2008 here . Meanwhile Mike in Baghdad, who is currently hosted by BaghdadAnne’s website has also some new pictures of the new embassy compound taken some three weeks ago here .