In June last year, we blogged about the Tillerson State Department’s plan to close down the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah (see U.S. Consulate General #Basrah, Iraq: Six-Year Old Diplomatic Outpost Faces Closure).
On September 28, the State Department announced Secretary Pompeo’s determination to place the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah on “ordered departure” status. That means post is now under mandatory evacuation. Media reports elsewhere notes post’s “temporary” closure but we could not find a formal announcement for temporary closure, post closure, or suspension of operation.
Per 2 FAM 410, 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, a position that remains vacant.
A statement from Secretary Pompeo talks about the “temporary relocation of diplomatic personnel“, blames Iran, and cites “increasing and specific threats and incitements to attack our personnel and facilities in Iraq.”
Basrah is located in the southern-most province of Iraq, near the border with Kuwait and Iran and serves the four provinces of the region: Basrah, Muthanna, Dhi Qar, and Maysan. The U.S Consulate General is adjacent to the Basrah International Airport and the facility, an interim project cost at least $150 million (this includes security and facility upgrades). Post did not provide visa services or non-emergency American citizen services, both of which are provided by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Its consular services were limited to emergency American citizen issues.
An updated Iraq Travel Advisory says:
The U.S. government’s ability to provide routine and emergency services to U.S. citizens in Iraq is extremely limited. On September 28, 2018, the Department of State ordered the departure of U.S. government personnel from the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah. The American Citizens Services (ACS) Section at the U.S. Embassy Baghdad will continue to provide consular services to U.S. citizens in Basrah.
A 2013 State/OG report notes the following about Basrah:
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.