Future U.S. embassy in Iraq to be world's biggest

Saturday, February 7, 2004

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The next U.S. Embassy in Iraq, scheduled to open in July, will eventually become the biggest American diplomatic mission in the world, U.S. officials say. While the future U.S. diplomatic presence in Baghdad is still in the planning phases, officials here agree that an enormous American contingent -- of 3,000 or more U.S. employees -- will be required in Iraq long after July 1, when the United States plans to turn over sovereignty to Iraqis. "It most likely will be the largest in the world for some time," a U.S. official in Washington said Friday on condition of anonymity. The U.S. ambassador to the Philippines, Francis Ricciardone, is supervising the embassy's creation. But Ricciardone, a career diplomat, is unlikely to be tapped as U.S. ambassador to Iraq.

The next ambassador -- the first official U.S. representative since Ambassador April Glaspie departed Iraq after the 1990 invasion of Kuwait -- is expected to be a Bush political appointee.

William Cavness, a State Department official in Baghdad, said opening a new embassy involves "huge construction projects" and difficult negotiations over how many people would have diplomatic status.

There have been no decisions on staff levels yet but "it's going to be very big," he said.

Currently the largest U.S. embassies are in Cairo and Moscow. The Baghdad embassy is expected to surpass those because many of the myriad American officials already in Iraq are expected to stay on.

Cavness said the location of the new embassy has yet to be decided.

One proposal under discussion would make a small, U.S.-flagged building in Baghdad the official building but that site would house little of the true diplomatic presence.

Instead, most Americans would remain posted inside the heavily fortified green zone in Baghdad. The Republican Palace could remain the focus of U.S. diplomatic activity, but because of its negative image as the seat of Saddam's 23-year dictatorship, the State Department is loathe to declare it the U.S. Embassy.

The previous U.S. Embassy was closed in 1990 when the United States broke diplomatic relations with Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait. After the 1991 Gulf War and until the U.S. invasion in April, U.S. affairs were handled at the nearby Polish Embassy.

The current U.S. presence in Iraq includes thousands of officials from the departments of State, Defense and Commerce, along with intelligence agencies, the U.S. Agency for International Development and several others. Officials have said many will remain in Iraq with diplomatic status.

However, others, such as political appointees who worked on the Bush election campaign in 2000 and who have no experience in the Middle East, will be replaced, officials in Washington and Baghdad said.

Many Department of Defense officials working for the Coalition Provisional Authority, which will be dissolved on June 30, worry they will fall under control of the Department of State. The two federal departments are often rivals on policy matters.

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