Back in April, Kelley Vlahos wrote about America’s $750 million dollar, 104-acre Baghdad embassy that, while full at the time, was probably overbuilt given the Iraqi government’s lack of interest in working with U.S. personnel and the outsize presence of contractors:
This manpower buildup was all part of the “first phase,” the source said, in which the embassy rapidly recruited American civilian workers in anticipation of taking over all U.S. responsibilities in the country in the wake of the military’s withdrawal in December. Now the business of helping the Iraqis develop their fledgling democracy and its new relationship with the West could resume in earnest. But it hasn’t.
According to a Feb. 8 New York Times story, Ambassador James F. Jeffrey and other senior State Department personnel in Iraq are now “reconsidering the size and scope of the embassy.” Calling it a “remarkable pivot,” writer Tim Arango goes on to say that officials have come to think the embassy buildup was “ill-advised” and are “frustrated by what they see as Iraqi obstructionism” as the Americans “are now largely confined to the embassy because of security concerns, unable to interact enough with ordinary Iraqis to justify the $6 billion price tag.”
Now the State Department has reversed course and decided instead that the embassy needs an upgrade, reports Walter Pincus two days ago in the Washington Post:
The State Department is planning to spend up to $115 million to upgrade the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad, already its biggest and most expensive in the world, according to pre-solicitation notices published this month.
Remember, it has been 3 1/2 years since American diplomats moved into the 104-acre, $700 million facility and only four months after State officials in February talked about trying to cut back the U.S. presence there.
State’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) put out a statement Wednesday saying new planning began after it was determined there needed to be “a larger population on the Baghdad Embassy compound, due to the consolidation of satellite diplomatic facilities and property around Baghdad.”
The statement added, “The consolidation takes the overall diplomatic property in Baghdad down by one-third, but increases the personnel working and living on the Embassy compound.”
Most of the upgrades appear to be for basic infrastructure, but Pincus notes a number of operational enhancements as well. The annual cost for the embassy is $6 billion.