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U.S. Consulate General #Basrah, Iraq: Six-Year Old Diplomatic Outpost Faces Closure

Posted: 2:12 pm PT

 

Next month, the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah, Iraq would mark its sixth anniversary as the United States diplomatic outpost in the country’s southern-most province near the border with Kuwait.

Located adjacent to the Basrah International Airport, ConGen Basrah serves the four provinces of Iraq’s southern region: Basrah, Muthanna, Dhi Qar, and Maysan.  The office consists of an executive office, headed by the Consul General, and sections covering economic and commercial affairs, political affairs, public diplomacy, and issues concerning rule of law, border enforcement (both coastal and land/sea), police development, regional security and regional affairs, management, and U.S. development programs managed by the U.S. Agency for International Development. It provides limited consular services to emergency American citizen issues but does not does provide visa services or non-emergency American citizen services, both of which are provided by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

We’ve recently learned that the State Department is now planning on closing the Consulate in Basrah.  One source told us that there is no timeline yet for the post closure. Our source estimates that with all the contract buy-outs, property, and local staffing issues to deal with, it could take half a year to shut things down. When we inquired if the memo circulated this past week was soliciting input or if this is a done deal, another source told us that this is pretty much a done deal as the security upgrade planned for this FY2017 had been cancelled. Not sure which construction/upgrade  project was cancelled but last year, a $4,885,950.00 contract for Basrah was awarded by State/OBO as one of its capital project in Iraq.

Whether this post is officially shuttered  this year or next year, we anticipate that this is only the first in the round of post closures that we understand for now includes over a dozen smaller posts spanning the globe.

U.S. Ambassador James F. Jeffrey officially opens the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah, Iraq, with Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey D. Feltman on July 5, 2011. Includes sound bites from Maj. Gen. Eddy Spurgin – commander, 36th Infantry Division/U.S. Division-South and Piper Campbell, the Consul General at Consulate Basra.

The State/OIG report on Inspection of Embassy Baghdad and Constituent Posts, Iraq in May 2013 notes the following:

The Government of Iraq would like to reclaim the 108-acre compound that houses the U.S. consulate general—a former British forward operating base 12 miles from Basrah on an Iraqi military compound adjacent to the international airport. The embassy is committed to maintain a presence in the south of Iraq, not least because it is the largest source of new oil to market in the world, and many U.S. companies are pursuing commercial opportunities there. The local government supports a U.S. presence, and the Government of Iraq committed in a 2004 bilateral agreement to provide a permanent site for consulate operations. To date, however, there has been no progress identifying a future site. The U.S. Government does not have a land use agreement for the current compound. The consulate general’s hold on the property remains tenuous.

At the time of the inspection, the Department was completing a $150 million interim construction project to provide basic security and infrastructure upgrades, but the facility and its isolated location are not suitable for a diplomatic mission on more than a temporary basis. Employees live in deteriorating containerized housing units; the compound has no central generator grid or access to city power; all supplies, including food, have to be trucked to the compound; and the security support needed to interact with contacts in Basrah City is costly. Operating costs to maintain the current, oversized facility and its hundreds of guards and life support staff are approximately $100 million per year. The Department has not given priority to or identified funding for a purpose-built facility.

Basrah’s ability to sustain operations is fragile under the best of circumstances because of its location at the end of a supply chain beset by shipping delays, security concerns, and the difficulty in recruiting and retaining U.S. direct-hire staff. As long as the consulate general occupies a sprawling compound that requires nearly 1,200 support staff, efforts to reduce costs and develop a long-term diplomatic presence commensurate with U.S. interests will remain on hold. If the Department cannot decide soon on Basrah’s future, it will at the very least have to fund interim upgrades to make facilities livable.
[…]
At BDSC and Consulate General Basrah, employees live in cramped containerized housing units. Currently, most employees occupy their own unit with a bathroom but no cooking facilities. No long-term plan exists to bring housing closer to Department standards. The need for better long-term housing, addressed in a recommendation earlier in this report, is acute.

The 2013 OIG report recommended that “Embassy Baghdad, in coordination with the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, should decide on the size and the nature of the diplomatic platform needed in Basrah.”

It appears that the Tillerson State Department has now decided that the United States does not need a diplomatic platform in Basrah.

Note that ConGen Basrah went from 81 direct-hire Americans and 1,102 contractors in January 2012 to 75 direct-hire Americans and 986 contractors in January 2013. In January 2014, the latest publicly available data via State/OIG, the direct-hire number was 46, while contractors were at 657.

According to the Foreign Affairs Manual, a proposal to open, close, or change the status of a post normally is made and recommended by the assistant secretary for the appropriate regional bureau.  […] The final decision to open, close, or change the status of a diplomatic mission is made by the President.  The final decision to open, close, or change the status of a consular post, consular agency, branch, or special office is made by the Under Secretary for Management.

Wait, the State Department is still missing its Under Secretary for Management.

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2 responses

  1. Is it true that the Charge in Beijing resined rather than deliver the Department’s message on Trump pulling out of the Paris Accord? Saw a tweet but have seen nothing else.

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    • That report has been confirmed by the State Department. There’s also a report that he was asked to depart post immediately; we have not been able to confirm that but given the track record of the current leadership at State, it is highly likely that the immediate departure order is true.

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