— Domani Spero
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The New Embassy Compound (NEC) in Baghdad was the most expensive construction in the world in 2009. Although a fixed amount is hard to come by, it is estimated that the construction cost amounted to approximately $700 million. In 2012, WaPo reported a $115 million embassy upgrade. If we add that and all other State Department capital projects in Iraq from FY2011, we would have to add approximately $411 million to the cost of the USG footprint in Iraq. Despite the recent rightsizing exercise, it remains the largest, and the most expensive diplomatic mission in the world.
The 104-acre U.S. Embassy in Iraq is the largest embassy in the world not just in terms of size at 420,873 square meters, but also personnel at 5,500 (estimated Jan 2014 headcount) and operational cost at $3.23 billion in FY2012. (Note: It is not the largest site in terms of diplomatic properties as the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center (BDSC) compound is located on a 350-acre facility adjacent to Baghdad International Airport). A quick comparison — one of our smallest embassies, the US Embassy in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea is 1,208 square meters, so 348 US Embassy Malabo NECs would fit into Embassy Baghdad. As well, the New Embassy London is 54,000 square meters, so about 7 1/2 of them would fit into Embassy Baghdad.
It may be that in a couple of years, with the ongoing construction of the New Embassy London and New Embassy Islamabad (each may hit the $1 billion mark), Embassy Baghdad will no longer be the most expensive embassy in the world, but for now, it is still the post with the mostest.
In 2009, the OIG inspectors identified the number of factors that have contributed to the size of this Embassy:
(1) implementation of a civilian assistance program of over $24 billion;
(2) a wide-ranging capacity-building program covering most key ministries in the Iraqi National Government and, through the PRTs, all provincial governments;
(3) the legacy of running the country and then working hand-in-glove with the Iraqis as they assumed more responsibility for funding their own development;
(4) the need to coordinate with the U.S. military in practically all aspects of the Embassy’s responsibilities; and
(5) the inability to have host-country LE staff provide the support and services that they do in almost all other embassies in the world. Also, the fact that employees can take three separate 22-day long rest and recuperation trips (R&Rs) means that staffing has to be larger to ensure full coverage.
One could argue that a combination of the above reasons are also driving the size and growth of our embassies in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
According to the OIG, Embassy Baghdad’s security budget in 2012 was $698 million. It notes that “As long as the staff cannot move safely and independently outside compound walls, maintaining a robust security apparatus and meeting the life support needs of the mission staff will require significantly more financial and personnel resources than at other U.S. missions.”
In 2013, the OIG inspectors warned that the large Iraq footprints, expensive to guard and maintain even after the rightsizing exercise, will strain support for diplomatic facilities worldwide when special appropriations that fund them end.
On June 16, 2014, the President transmitted a report notifying the Congress that up to approximately 275 U.S. military personnel are deploying to Iraq to provide support and security for U.S. personnel and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Today, AFPS reports that President Obama announced plans to send up to 300 military advisers to Iraq to help the government in Baghdad combat a rapid advance by Sunni-led insurgents.
Here is Embassy Iraq, by the numbers:
#a. Audit 2009: http://oig.state.gov/documents/organization/131069.pdf
#b. US Mission Iraq: Twelve Things You Might Not Know About the Largest Embassy in the World
#e. Malabo: http://overseasbuildings.state.gov/sites/admin-overseasbuildings.state.gov/files/pdfs/malabo_508.pdf
#f. London: http://overseasbuildings.state.gov/sites/admin-overseasbuildings.state.gov/files/pdfs/london_508.pdf
#h. OBO Inspection 2008: http://oig.state.gov/documents/organization/109074.pdf
#i. Embassy Baghdad Inspection 2013: http://oig.state.gov/documents/organization/210403.pdf
- US Mission Iraq: Now on Partial “Temporary Relocation” To Basra, Erbil & Amman (Jordan) (diplopundit.net)
- Security Beefed up at US Embassy in Baghdad (abcnews.go.com)
- Obama Is Sending 275 US Troops To Iraq (businessinsider.com)
- “Business as Usual” at Baghdad’s Embassies (iraq-businessnews.com)
- Security beefed up at US embassy in Baghdad (stripes.com)
- U.S. adds security to embassy in Baghdad (suntimes.com)
See “They’re Supersizing the Baghdad Embassy. Big Mistake,” Washington Post 2004