By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 23, 2009
The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad -- the United States' largest and most costly overseas diplomatic mission, with 1,873 employees -- is overstaffed and must be reduced to a size more in keeping with the evolving U.S.-Iraq relationship and budget constraints, government auditors said in a report issued Wednesday.
The State Department's inspector general said that although the U.S. presence in Iraq will become more civilian as the military withdraws over the next two years, the embassy "should be able to carry out all of its responsibilities with significantly fewer staff and in a much-reduced footprint." The reduction "has to begin immediately," the report said, before Foreign Service officers complete their next assignment bidding cycle and other employees are extended or hired.
Nearly 30 provincial reconstruction teams, the principal U.S. vehicles for development and governance projects in Iraq, will be phased out over the next 2 1/2 years, the report said, with the overall American presence reduced to the embassy and "possibly two or more consulates."
For more than five years following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the embassy was housed in Saddam Hussein's Republican Palace inside the fortified Green Zone in central Baghdad. In the Bush administration, the audit said, normal staffing limits were not imposed, and cost "did not seem to be a factor."
Construction on a new embassy compound began in 2005 -- 21 buildings on 104 highly secured acres, costing more than $700 million.