The Islamic Post Blog


New Iraq Embassy Opens Broader Fiscal, Social Questions by Khalida
February 2, 2009, 10:23 am
Filed under: February Volume I- 2009, World | Tags:

By Noora Ahmad

Islamic Post Staff Writer

The opening ceremony of a new American embassy in Iraq last month indicated a “broadening of the relationship” with Iraq, according to U.S. Embassy Spokeswoman, Susan Ziadeh. “Its scale reflects the importance of the U.S.-Iraq bilateral relationship,” she noted, about size of the new facility, the 21 buildings of which sprawl across 104 acres, cost $592 million to construct, and will host 5,500 employees (half of whom are listed as security), according to a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee report.
The compound was completed just after outgoing President George W. Bush made farewell trips to Iraq and Afghanistan late last year. His Iraq tour was marked by an Iraqi journalist hurling his shoes at the now former head of state, in protest, during a news conference in the Green Zone.
The said news conference, however, was an announcement on the part of former President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki regarding the new Status of Forces Agreement which requires U.S. combat forces to retreat to the Green Zone, by June 30, of this year. The agreement also calls for a complete withdrawal of troops from the country by December 31, 2011.
About Iraq, the former president told ABC last year that he regretted the “intelligence failure” which led to the invasion, but elaborated during an interview with his sister, Doro Bush Koch (via StoryCorps) that he would like to be remembered as “somebody who liberated 50 million people and helped achieve peace.”
The former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, expressed his feelings regarding the Iraq invasion in stronger terms when he told the BBC in 2004, “I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN charter from our point of view; from the charter point of view, it was illegal.” These comments drew anger from a former advisor for the Defense Secretary of that time, Donald Rumsfeld (who later resigned). The advisor, Randy Scheunemann told the BBC in response to Mr. Annan: “I think it is outrageous for the Secretary-General, who ultimately works for the member states, to try and supplant his judgment, for the judgment of the member states.”
Although the embassy is a symbol, of a softer stance, of the United States, in Iraq, the subsequent construction of the embassy also drew criticism for the Bush administration as being “ill-timed” given the current economic crisis; its operating costs alone have been estimated at $1.2 billion per annum by Senate staffers.
The prime contractor, First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting Company may have overcharged the U.S. government by 260 percent in the building of the new embassy, according to the Defense Contract Audit Agency in 2005. Ethical questions are in no shortage for First Kuwaiti, which was cited by the House Oversight Committee in October 2007, with “substandard work,” and also indicted in a human trafficking case last year.
But sore thumbs also plague Iraq, in the discussion of the expenditure, of billions, of dollars. According to Iraqi reporter Samrad Ali, writing for the Wall Street Journal: “The host country isn’t better off either. It has been mired in problems such as foreign debt, ethnic violence and reconciliation hurdles and slow-to-nonexistent reconstruction efforts. To invest this huge amount of money in building a vast, walled-off concrete building, in the war-battered capital, whose infrastructure has been devastated by the U.S.-led invasion sounds a bit ostentatious,” he writes.
As the new embassy was being dedicated, the Iraqi government was grappling with where to place the thousands of homeless people who are living in unused government buildings which the government has plans to renovate, after their destruction during the invasion. In the race for its own functional government facilities, lawmakers are dealing with a heavy hand: “The Iraqi Cabinet has decided to evict all squatters in or on government property – land, houses, residential buildings or offices. They will be given financial help to find alternative places to live,” a government statement from early last month read.
But aid agencies say what the government is offering is not nearly enough. However, “the law must prevail,” Abdul Khaliq Zankana, head of the Iraqi parliament’s Displacement and Migration committee, told the IRIN news agency, as protests ensued in Baghdad after the ruling. “But I do believe the best way to deal with this issue is to postpone the implementation until the middle of the year as it is winter now, and we can’t turn those people out onto the street.”
Sarmad Ali summed up the current sentiment in Iraq: “To ordinary Iraqis …who realize that their infrastructure has been weakened by U.S. sanctions and later bombardments and occupation and who have to put up with long hours of power outages and a lack of tap water, news of the new U.S.-fortified compound isn’t that enthralling,” he writes. But, after lamenting the lack of functionality at the old embassy, he gave a broader picture: “Diplomatic representation is slowly coming to life again in Baghdad and Iraqis no longer think of the West the same way they once thought of it under Saddam’s brainwashing mechanism. Still, for most Iraqis, diplomatic representation and vast Western embassy structures on the blocks of their capital are meaningless, if not coupled with serious measures to loosen up the process of granting serious and aspiring Iraqis visas to travel, study abroad, broaden their horizons and go back to help build their nation,” the Iraqi journalist concluded.

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