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U.S. has big plans for embassy in Iraq

The United States is making plans to create the largest U.S. diplomatic mission in the world in Baghdad, complete with a staff of over 3,000 personnel, according to U.S. officials.
/ Source: a href="" linktype="External" resizable="true" status="true" scrollbars="true">The Washington Post</a

In preparation for ending its occupation of Iraq, the United States is making plans to create the largest U.S. diplomatic mission in the world in Baghdad, complete with a staff of over 3,000 personnel, according to U.S. officials.

The transition will mark the hand-over of responsibility for dealing with Iraq from the Pentagon to the State Department, which will then help oversee the two definitive steps in creating Iraq's first freely elected democratic government.

"The real challenge for the new embassy, so to speak, or the new presence will be helping the Iraqi people get ready for their full elections and full constitution the following year," Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said in an interview this week. "That's going to be a major effort on our part."

One of the first steps will be resuming diplomatic relations between Washington and Baghdad. Although the United States is the occupying power in Iraq, the two nations have not formally resumed relations, which were severed after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.

"Saddam broke off relations in 1991, and it requires a fairly complicated agreement to reestablish ties," a senior administration official said.

The other major challenge will be sorting out the terms of the U.S. military presence, which is expected to exceed 100,000 troops even after the occupation ends, U.S. officials say.

"We have to determine what command American troops will be under: Will it be part of some kind of multinational force, under the United Nations, under NATO? Or will they be relatively independent in an agreement with the Iraqi government? These are huge questions to be answered in a very short amount of time," the official added.

In the interview, Powell said he will spend the next six months pressing for larger international participation: "As I build up that large embassy, I've got to also generate more international support, U.N. presence — get the U.N. back in their in force. ... I think NATO is more and more willing to play a role in Iraq."

Over the next six months, the State Department will increasingly assume responsibility for jobs now carried out by the U.S.-led coalition authority, senior U.S. officials said. Several teams of lawyers are immersed in the complicated legal issues of handing back sovereignty to Iraq and making arrangements for a formal diplomatic relationship.

The bulk of the U.S. staff will continue to be headquartered in Saddam Hussein's former Republican Palace. But to prevent the potential psychological fallout from staying in the headquarters of the previous dictatorship, the new embassy will officially be in a building not far from the "Green Zone" of Baghdad, where the Coalition Provisional Authority operates. The embassy, however, will have nominal use.

The United States is tentatively planning to build a new embassy, although construction could take three to five years, U.S. officials say. Over the next two months, the State Department will intensively recruiting to staff the U.S. Embassy.

Staffing has been an issue in recent months. Many on the staff of L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. administrator in Iraq, are young, comparatively inexperienced in the Middle East, non-Arabic speakers and political appointees rather than career Foreign Service officers. Some have already left or plan to do so before occupation ends to work on the president's reelection campaign, according to U.S. officials.

"There will be a fairly dramatic shift of personnel over the next six months," the U.S. official said. "It can't be precipitous and happen all at once."

The U.S. Embassy in Egypt has a larger presence, more than 7,000 personnel. But they include many non-diplomats from other U.S. agencies, including, for example, two members of the Library of Congress who collect foreign books. The Baghdad embassy will have the largest diplomatic staff anywhere in the world, the State Department said.