US Mission Iraq Gets One COVID-19 Case From DOS Chartered Flight Out of Dulles

 

We recently learned that an individual who arrived at US Mission Iraq on a charter flight from Dulles, VA on July 1st has tested positive of COVID-19 and has been in quarantine since arrival.
We understand that the chartered aircraft was a 767 with 2-2-2 seating in business class and 2-3-2 seating in economy. The middle seat in economy was left open but the remaining seats were filled. The flight included over a hundred passengers who were either US direct-hire or contractors supporting Mission Iraq. We understand that some passengers purposefully did not wear their masks correctly during the flight.
Passengers were notified about the case on July 9th when all Mission personnel received an email from the Front Office. Passengers reportedly also received a call from post management to confirm they’d seen the email. The mission notification indicates that post is “in the process of contact tracing” to include at various points since the flight’s departure on June 30th. 
We also learned that post has no idea if the individual was COVID positive at the time of the flight. The CDC is advising people to “stay home for 14 days from the time you returned home from international travel” but what do you do with travel within the United States?
The passengers are subject to a 14-day quarantine upon arrival (apparently now standard procedure). However, there were understandably concerns that MED and post management did not provide details about when the infected person was tested or why there was over a week’s delay in post notification. It is also understood that post has  alerted those who were in close proximity to the infected individual but people have no idea on how wide an area of the plane was notified.    
We were wondering if employees can get a COVID-19 test if they ask for it or if tests are only available to those manifesting COVID-19 symptoms.
We learned today that those on the flight received a reminder today to check in with the MED unit before rejoining the general population on July 14. They were advised to discuss any symptoms they had during quarantine with MED and, “if we [MED Unit] feel it is necessary, we will perform a COVID-19 test”.
Does MED Iraq have the ability to process COVID-19 tests at post; and if not, where are these tests sent and what is the turn around for results? What about other posts without Embassy Baghdad’s resources?
Given that the U.S. is now a hotspot, are State Department employees and contractors tested prior to their departure to Iraq or elsewhere?
We should note that the United States is currently #1 in confirmed COVID-19 cases in the world, and with over 137,000 deaths, it is also #1 in COVID-19 deaths in the world. For detailed situation update worldwide, see the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

@StateDept Orders Evacuation of Designated USG Employees From US Embassy Baghdad, USCG Erbil, and BDSC

 

On March 26, the State Department updated its Iraq Travel Advisory, a Level 4 Do Not Travel to Iraq “due to terrorism, kidnapping, armed conflict, the Global Health Advisory, and Mission Iraq’s limited capacity to provide support to U.S. citizens.”
The updated advisory announced the mandatory departure of designated U.S. government employees from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center (BDSC), and the U.S. Consulate General in Erbil on March 25 “due to security conditions and restricted travel options as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Excerpt below:

U.S. citizens in Iraq are at high risk for violence and kidnapping. Numerous terrorist and insurgent groups are active in Iraq and regularly attack both Iraqi security forces and civilians. Anti-U.S. sectarian militias threaten U.S. citizens and Western companies throughout Iraq. Attacks by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) occur in many areas of the country, including Baghdad.

On March 25, 2020, the Department of State ordered the departure of designated U.S. government employees from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the Baghdad Diplomatic support Center, and the U.S. Consulate General in Erbil due to security conditions and restricted travel options as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. On December 31, 2019, the Embassy suspended public consular services, until further notice, as a result of damage done by Iranian-backed terrorist attacks on the Embassy compound. U.S. Consulate General Erbil remains open and continues to provide consular services. On October 18, 2018, the Department of State ordered the suspension of operations at the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah. That institution has not reopened. Due to security concerns, U.S. Embassy personnel in Baghdad have been instructed not to use Baghdad International Airport.

U.S. citizens should not travel through Iraq to Syria to engage in armed conflict, where they would face extreme personal risks (kidnapping, injury, or death) and legal risks (arrest, fines, and expulsion). The Kurdistan Regional Government stated that it will impose prison sentences of up to ten years on individuals who illegally cross the border. Additionally, fighting on behalf of, or supporting designated terrorist organizations, is a crime that can result in penalties, including prison time and large fines in the United States.

Read in full here.

Iraqi Parliament Votes to Remove US Troops From Iraq, Trump Threatens With “Very Big Sanctions”

 

Pompeo’s New Songs Bring Back the Old Times With #BaghdadBob

 

 

Iraqi Protesters Breach U.S. Embassy Baghdad’s Compound

Media reports indicate that Iraqi protesters, identified as Iraqi Shiite militia members and their supporters, stormed the U.S. Embassy Baghdad on December 31, in protest of the deadly air strikes conducted by U.S. forces over the weekend. Reports note that the Sunday strikes killed at least 25 fighters and wounded 55.
On December 30, SecDef Mark Esper announced that “the Department of Defense took offensive actions in defense of our personnel and interests in Iraq by launching F-15 Strike Eagles against five targets associated with Kata’ib Hezbollah, which is an Iranian-sponsored Shiite militia group.  The targets we attacked included three targets in Western Iraq and two targets in Eastern Syria that were either command and control facilities or weapons caches for Kata’ib Hezbollah.”
On December 27, a rocket attack at an Iraqi base killed one U.S. contractor and wounded four U.S. troops. See 
According to the AP, the State Department has stated that all U.S. personnel at Embassy Baghdad are safe and that there are no plants to evacuate.
This morning, U.S. Embassy Baghdad issued a security alert advising “U.S. citizens not to approach the Embassy.  U.S. citizens should keep in touch with family members.  In an emergency, U.S. citizens in Iraq or those concerned about family in Iraq should contact the Department of State at +1-202-501-4444 or toll-free in the U.S. at 1-888-407-4747.”

 

@StateDept Plans 28% Staff Reduction For US Mission Iraq By May 2020

 

Via CNN:

The State Department plans to dramatically downsize the number of American personnel in Iraq, according to a memo sent to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and obtained by CNN.

The document, dated December 6 and sent by Bureau of Legislative Affairs Assistant Secretary Mary Elizabeth Taylor to committee Chairman Jim Risch, an Idaho Republican, outlines plans to reduce staffing levels at US Mission Iraq by 28% by the end of May 2020.

The reduction would mean 114 fewer people at the US Embassy in Baghdad, 15 fewer people at the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center and eight fewer people at Consulate General Erbil. In addition to the reduction in State Department personnel, the cuts would include Defense Department and US Agency for International Development personnel.
[…]
A senior State Department official told CNN that the decision was driven by leadership at State collectively and added that they think people at US Mission Iraq could be targeted. The official said they are already more cautious about deploying US officials into the field. The official said the Trump administration is seeking to reduce potential security concerns and increase military force with the deployment of more troops to the region.
FP has the following:

The U.S. Mission in Iraq will reduce the number of staff at its embassy, diplomatic support center, and consulate in Erbil in Northern Iraq from 486 to 349, a 28 percent decrease, by the end of May 2020. The majority of the staff leave will come from the State Department, but other government agencies, including the Defense Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), will also cut the size of their staff at the embassy, as the document shows.

Foreign Policy posted the Iraq drawdown document sent to SFRC Chair Jim Risch here. The number in the notification includes direct hire personnel, personal services contractors, and third country nationals. What it does not include is life support staff.
Back in 2010, we posted US Embassy Baghdad: The “civilianization” of the U.S. presence in Iraq and its peskiest details.  At that time, State/OIG notes:

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.

So if the staff reduction is approximately 135, what does that mean in reduction of life support staffing level? CNN reports that the staff reductions was “driven by leadership at State collectively …. they think people at US Mission Iraq could be targeted”.  See OSAC – 2019 Crime and Safety Report – Iraq – Baghdad.pdf 
Related posts:

@StateDept FOIA: Trump’s January 2017 EO: Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States

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On January 27, 2017, Trump issued an Executive Order that suspends the entry of refugees to the United States for 120 days and deny entry/issuance of visas to citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries [Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen]. See Trump EO: Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States, 1.27.2017

Below is a collection of documents from the State Department via Jason Leopold’s FOIA efforts. The documents illustrate the actions and confusion following the issuance of the Executive Order. In a normal administration where the motto is not “chaos everyday”, this EO would have gone through an internal process where overseas posts learn beforehand about the new policy, how it is interpreted for operational purposes, and are provided guidance on how to address the more complicated cases, and exceptions. In this case, the EO was released and overseas posts had no answers to relevant operational questions. The agreed guidance between DHS and State did not go out until January 30, 2017. Meanwhile, US Embassy Baghdad had to deal with the EO fallout from the Iraqi government and shocked Kurdish partners.

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Ambassador Matthew Tueller Presents His Credentials in Baghdad

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New U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Matthew Tueller arrived in Baghdad in early June to assume charge of the U.S. mission in Iraq.

Ambassador Tueller, of the State of Utah, is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service.  His other overseas assignments have included Ambassador to Yemen, Ambassador to Kuwait, Deputy Chief of Mission at Embassy Cairo; Political Minister Counselor at Embassy Baghdad; Deputy Chief of Mission at Embassy Kuwait; Political Counselor at Embassy Riyadh; Chief of the U.S. Office in Aden, Yemen; Deputy Chief of Mission at Embassy Doha; Political Officer at Embassy London; and Political Officer and Consular Officer at Embassy Amman.  His Washington assignments have included Deputy Director in the Office of Northern Gulf Affairs and Egypt Desk Officer.

Ambassador Tueller holds a B.A. from Brigham Young University and a M.P.P. from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.  He was confirmed by the Senate to be Ambassador to Iraq on May 16 and presented his credentials to the Iraqi government on June 9, 2019. Ambassador Tueller is married to DeNeece Gurney of Provo, Utah and they are parents of five children.

Ambassador to Yemen Matthew Tueller
(photo by US Embassy Yemen/FB)

Ambassador Tueller’s arrival completes the top leadership roles in Mission Iraq.  Joey Hood is now the Deputy Chief of Mission after serving as CDA;  Timmy Davis as Consul General for Basrah (mandatory evacuated in September 2018), and  Steven Fagin as Consul General in Erbil.

 

U.S. Mission Iraq Gets a New Ambassador After Mandatory Evacuation of Non-Emergency Personnel

 

 

On May 16, the day after the State Department ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. Government employees from Iraq, both at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the U.S. Consulate in Erbil, the U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination of Ambassador Matthew Tueller as the next Ambassador to Iraq. State  also issued a new Level 4 Do Not Travel advisory for Iraq due to “due to terrorism, kidnapping, and armed conflict.”

We could not recall Mission Iraq  ever going on “ordered departure” (mandatory evacuation).  On June 15, 2014, the State Department went on partial “temporary relocation” of USG personnel from Embassy Baghdad to Basrah, Erbil and Amman, Jordan (see US Mission Iraq: Now on Partial “Temporary Relocation” To Basra, Erbil & Amman (Jordan).  In August 2014, it relocated additional Baghdad/Erbil Staff to Basrah and Amman (Jordan). Note that these “temporary relocations” occurred around the targeted airstrikes against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorists. The State Department went out of its way to avoid the use of the words “authorized departure”, “ordered departure” or for that matter “mandatory evacuation” in describing the movement of its staff that summer.  In September 2018, there was a Mandatory Evacuation For US Consulate General Basrah but limited to Southern Iraq.

As recently as March 31, 2019, in the LEAD IG REPORT TO THE U.S. CONGRESS says:

USCENTCOM reported to the DoD OIG that Iranian activity in Iraq has not changed from last quarter.404 Iranian-backed groups continue to monitor Coalition operations, personnel, and facilities, publish false or misleading stories about Coalition activity in the media, and, through allies within the Iraqi Council of Representatives, support legislation to compel the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.405 CJTF-OIR reported that Iran and Iran-backed groups prefer to try to diminish U.S. and Coalition presence in Iraq through soft power means rather than through direct military confrontation.406

404. USCENTCOM, response to DoD OIG request for information, 3/26/2019.
405. CJTF-OIR, response to DoD OIG request for information, 3/26/2019.
406. USCENTCOM, response to DoD OIG request for information, 3/25/2019

 

Sources: Major Personnel Cuts Coming For U.S. Mission Iraq

Posted: 4:28 am EST
Updated: 5:01 am EST

 

It looks like US Mission Iraq is in for another big round of staff reduction.  Sources indicate that staff cuts could be as much as a third. People reportedly are being told to return home. Like when?  Now? Like there’s no glide path here …  just pack up and go home now?

Update: We just learned that assigned personnel were notified last week to find other jobs.

If folks time this really well, Secretary Pompeo can then go talk to Congress about cost savings by the time he is up there in May for the State Department Budget Request for FY2020.

So we want to take a look at staffing numbers. We have two publicly available staffing numbers to work with, both a bit outdated so  our numbers are speculation at this time. One is from 2013 when Embassy Iraq told State/OIG that it planned to reduce staffing from 11,500 in January 2013 to 5,500 in January 2014. That’s over five years ago, and we don’t know if US Mission Iraq was successful with this reduction plan. Let’s say post was successful, and staffing was down to 5,500 in early 2014. A reduction by a third means moving out about 1,800 people out of Iraq, which presumably includes not just direct-hire employees but also contractors.

Our second staffing number is from a January 2016 solicitation posted on FedBiz for Medical Service Support Iraq II which indicates the following:  “The BDSC Large Diplomatic Support Hospital not only provides primary care to personnel at BDSC, but also may serve as the secondary and trauma care center for the patient population within U.S. Mission Iraq (4300 – 5800 personnel).”

If we take the lower end of that bracket at 4300, a reduction by a third means moving out approximately 1400 people out of Iraq and and back to domestic assignments/regular postings for direct-hire employees. Staff reduction could also means less protective security requirements, reduction in number of contractors providing various support functions, as wells as a reduction in the number of hospitals, air flights, food operations and logistics, laundry services, warehouse operation, vehicle maintenance services, and a long host of other support services.

Another way we’re looking at this is to go back to a 2010 State/OIG report that estimated a minimum of 15 and possibly up to 60 security and life support staff to support one substantive direct-hire position. For instance, if there are some 350 direct-hire employees and you slash a third of that staff, the corresponding security and life support staff could also be reduced by a third, which means a reduction of about 1700 security and life support staff (using the minimum 1:15 support ratio). 

We do not know at this time how many direct-hire personnel will actually be affected by these cuts, or how many assignments — onward assignments, linked assignments, or how many contractors — will be impacted. We will update if/when we know more. There’s also a nagging question in our noggin — after Iraq, where else?

Maybe time to do a trip down the blog’s memory lane. Back in 2010, we posted US Embassy Baghdad: The “civilianization” of the U.S. presence in Iraq and its peskiest details.  At that time, State/OIG notes:

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 following year, the US Embassy in Baghdad made news on its planned staffing expansion from 8,000 to 17,000 (see US Embassy Iraq: From a staff of 8,000 to 17,000?).

In 2011, we did US Mission Iraq: Not DOD’s Giganotosaurus Footprint, But a Super Embassaurus For Real.  We  had a deep sense of humor then. That same year, we saw the opening of a new post in Iraq (see Newest US Consulate General Opens in Basrah, Iraq)

In 2012, US Mission Iraq made news again as news on a reduction in staffing by as much as as half was splashed on the headlines (see US Embassy Iraq Staffing: To Slash or Not to Slash, That is the Question).  There was also BLISS (US Mission Iraq: Get ready for BLISS… no, not perfect happiness — just Baghdad Life Support Services.

In 2013, we did a Twelve Things You Might Not Know About the Largest Embassy in the World.  That same year, there were various embassy closures (see Intel Signs of Al Qaeda Plot in the Making: U.S. Embassy Closures — Sunday, August 4.

In 2013, the State Department told the State/OIG: “The Embassy is taking steps to reduce the mission’s headcount from over 11,500 in January 2013 to 5,500 by January 2014.

The year 2014 saw the partial temporary relocation of embassy staff to Basra, Erbil, and Amman, Jordan (U.S. Relocates More Baghdad/Erbil Staff to Basrah and Amman (Jordan), Updates Aug. 8 Travel Warning  (2014); US Mission Iraq: Now on Partial “Temporary Relocation” To Basra, Erbil & Amman (Jordan)

In spring 2015, a bomb exploded outside the US Consulate in Erbil, an attack claimed by ISIS (see Bomb Explodes Outside US Consulate Erbil in Northern Iraq, ISIS Claims Attack (Updated).

In the fall of 2015, the State Department updated its regulations for danger pay. All posts in Iraq were designated danger pay post at the 35%, the highest bracket (see New Danger Pay Differential Posts: See Gainers, Plus Losers Include One Post on Evacuation Status)

A January 2016 FedBiz solicitation estimated U.S. Mission Iraq personnel as between 4300– 5800 people.

In 2016, we blogged about the new folks leading the various posts under US Mission Iraq (see @StateDept Summer Rotation Brings New Faces to the U.S. Mission in Iraq.  That same year, the US Embassy in Baghdad issued a warning on possible collapse of Iraq’s Mosul Dam. See also Failure of Iraq’s #Mosul Dam Would Likely Cause “A Catastrophe of Biblical Proportions”.  Whatever happened to that? See this.

In June 2017, we learned that the State Department under new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson planned to close down the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah (see U.S. Consulate General #Basrah, Iraq: Six-Year Old Diplomatic Outpost Faces Closure).

Also in June 2017, the State Department awarded a $422,470,379.00 contract for the construction of the New Consulate Compound in Erbil, Iraq (NCC Erbil). @StateDept Awards $422M Contract For New Consulate Compound in Erbil, Iraq.

In September 2018, fifteen months after we blogged about the planned closure of Consulate Basrah under Tillerson (at that time we were told the planned closure had no timeline), the State Department, under the new leadership of Mike Pompeo ordered the mandatory evacuation for US Consulate General Basrah in Southern Iraq. Secretary Pompeo blamed Iran, and cited “increasing and specific threats and incitements to attack our personnel and facilities in Iraq.”

On October 18, 2018, the Department of State ordered the temporary suspension of operations at the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah.

In November 2018, President Trump nominated career diplomat Matthew Tueller to be  the next U.S. Ambassador to Iraq.   The nomination has been resubmitted to the SFRC on January 16, 2019 where it remains pending as of this writing. It looks like the SRFC is not in any great hurry to hold a confirmation hearing.

That’s where we are. Still remains to be seen what kind of budget allocation we’re going to see in the FY2020 budget proposal  for US Mission Iraq, or what cost savings they’re looking at when this reduction is officially unveiled.  It would also be interesting to see if this is the start of the end of the Iraq tax on diplomatic personnel and facilities worldwide.

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