US Embassy Baghdad: The “civilianization” of the U.S. presence in Iraq and peskiest details

State’s OIG inspected the US Embassy Baghdad in 2009.  It conducted a compliance review in Washington, DC, between July 26 and August 10, 2010, and in Baghdad, Iraq, between August 12 and 19, 2010 and has now released its report.

The good news?  The report says that “Compliance by Embassy Baghdad and Department of State (Department) offices with the recommendations contained in the 2009 inspection report was generally good and largely completed.” It also includes some nuggets of very interesting information:

The US Embassy in Baghdad: By the Numbers
(extracted from OIG report)

Occupies 104 acres on the Tigris River
22 buildings
16 PRTs throughout Iraq
8,000 personnel under chief of mission authority
By 2011, to stand up two consulates in Basrah and Erbil
By 2011, to stand up two embassy branch offices in Kirkuk and Mosul
By 2012, projected 13,000 personnel (direct hire, LE, contractor and support personnel)
By 2012, plans 10 other logistics, aviation, security cooperation and police training facilities   

“An atypical post”

OIG says that the US Embassy Baghdad is “an atypical post”.  Meaning it’s not representative of US diplomatic missions.  We think we can all agree that this is true.  A polite way of saying it is an irregular, abnormal diplomatic post, unlike anything our government had before, unless of course, you’ve heard of US Embassy Kabul, another war zone embassy.

“Embassy Baghdad is an atypical post. In most countries, local authorities provide a secure environment in which diplomats function. When they cannot, the United States customarily closes its mission or suspends operations.

Iraq is an exception. Severe restrictions on the movement of mission personnel, necessary due to the extreme danger of operating in Baghdad, make setting up meetings with Iraqi officials complicated, and reaching out to ordinary Iraqi citizens all but impossible. Until recently, fear of violence kept many Iraqis from working as LE staff, and the mission had to bring in LE staff from other countries.

Almost everything the embassy needs must be imported at great cost or be produced on compound. The embassy generates its own electricity and potable water and treats its wastewater. Its fuel and food are imported by armed convoy. Almost all personnel live in 600 crowded apartments or in reinforced trailers. Embassy Baghdad is unlikely to be a normal diplomatic post until Iraq itself stabilizes, and that may be years away.”

To “mitigate and mediate” — overselling what posts might accomplish

The OIG concludes that “The Department is planning to create two consulates and two temporary posts in the provinces, with their first priority to “mitigate and mediate” the Arab/Kurdish and Shi’a/Sunni conflicts. The United States risks overselling what these posts might accomplish.” 

This led the OIG to posed the question, Can the U.S. temporary provincial presence be expected to resolve centuries-old ethnic and religious rifts in Iraq?

“Public statements by U.S. officials indicate the two EBOs are intended to be temporary, fulfilling their mission and closing within 3 to 5 years. Strategic planning for the “civilianization” of the U.S. presence is being run from the National Security Council’s Iraq Policy Group, under Vice Presidential direction.

Washington has approved mission statements for the EBOs that put mitigating and mediating Arab-Kurd, Sunni-Shi’a, and provincial-national tensions as the first priority.2 These serious internal disputes have defied resolution for centuries. Recently, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq has studied and detailed the longstanding Arab-Kurd and other interethnic “fault line” problems, and it has attempted one mediation/mitigation effort already. The mission intends to conduct their work in an environment in which 95 percent of the Iraqi population holds unfavorable or ambivalent views of the United States.3 By linking the three-to-five year timeline of the two small EBOs to mitigating and mediating these fundamental cultural conflicts, does the United States risk overselling what it can and will accomplish?

It appears that provincial staffing is now being driven by budget constraints, rather than an appraisal of what is needed to accomplish the mission; certainly there is no indication that the missions have been redefined or reduced as funding and staffing projections shrink. In June 2010, the Embassy provided the Department with its staffing requirements to achieve the defined provincial missions. After Congress approved the supplemental funding levels in August, the embassy was told to cut staffing levels for the provinces in half, but was given no amended policy guidance.”

Life support/security staff for every direct-hire position in Iraq : LOW: 1:15 to HIGH: 1:60

The total planned U.S. Government civilian presence in Iraq at the end of 2011 will be approximately 13,000 people (although that number could change, depending on the size and mission of the DOD’s Office of Security Cooperation). Of the 3,635 personnel to be located at the four provincial posts, only 59 direct-hire positions will address the mission statement priorities.5 Assuming that the security situation does not change dramatically for the better, the direct-hires will be assigned to 1-year tours and have three rest-and-recuperation (R&R) trips, cutting their time at post by up to 66 days. Because of the number of personnel needed and the rapid turnover, they will be mid-level employees and probably won’t speak Arabic or Kurdish. Some of the LE staff and subject matter expert personnel will provide language support. The number of security and life support personnel required to maintain this limited substantive staff is huge: 82 management, 2,008 security, 157 aviation, and 1,085 life support personnel. In other words, depending on the definition of support staff, it takes a minimum of 15 and possibly up to 60 security and life support staff to support one substantive direct-hire position. To put this into perspective, a quick calculation of similar support ratios at three major embassies (Beijing, Cairo, and New Delhi) shows an average of four substantive officers to every three support staff (4:3) in contrast to 1:15 to 1:60 in Iraq.

The effect of the SIV program on stable staffing

Since the 2009 inspection, the number of Iraqi LE staff at the embassy has grown from 30 to 130, a healthy and necessary increase. Indeed, the U.S. mission in Iraq will never operate normally until it has an LE staff composed largely of Iraqi employees who can provide experience and institutional memory. The present SIV program offers permanent U.S. residence (with refugee benefits) after just one year on the job; worldwide, service of 15 to 20 years (without refugee status) is the norm. The Department and Congress should consider whether the SIV program is effectively serving as an incentive to work at the embassy for only one year, rather than an appropriate reward for dangerous service.

Read the whole thing here.

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