By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 29, 2010; 10:31 PM
Most U.S. troops have departed Iraq, and the remaining 50,000 American forces are due to leave by the end of next year, but the country remains a dangerous place - at least State Department and Pentagon officials believe so.
State has plans to move about 600 employees now living in Baghdad into barracks to be built within the new embassy complex there. Why? "The imminent departure of the military from Iraq and the associated return of property and facilities to the government of Iraq, including a substantial amount of housing, makes the timely construction of the building important to the continued operation of the embassy," State Department officials said in an August memo explaining the need to get funding rapidly for the barracks building. It is set to cost almost $70 million to construct.
Those officials also said it is "highly likely that the security situation in Baghdad may deteriorate to the point where any other housing would be deemed to be too unsafe and the personnel would not be able to remain in Baghdad."
A State Department inspector general report released last month offers a sense of what it is like for employees at the embassy. It refers to "severe restrictions on the movement of mission personnel" because of the city's dangers. It also says the potential for attacks is complicating meetings with Iraqi officials and makes "reaching out to ordinary Iraqi citizens all but impossible."
In that same memo, the officials noted that the embassy compound itself "is being subjected to lethal indirect fire on a daily basis as the result of increasing political instability in Iraq and the general deterioration in the security situation."
Noting that one contractor was killed and 15 others wounded in such an attack in July, the officials said it is "highly likely that the security situation will further deteriorate leading up to and after the U.S. military leaves Iraq at the end of 2011."
A State Department travel warning on Iraq, issued Nov. 5, states that while there are fewer incidents, "violence and threats against U.S. citizens persist and no region should be considered safe from dangerous conditions, including explosions, kidnappings, and other terrorist and criminal attacks." It points out that attacks against military and civilian targets throughout Iraq continue, including in the Baghdad's Green Zone, where the embassy is located, and northern Iraq.
Back in June, State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security had approximately 2,700 private contract security personnel in Iraq, 1,800 of whom provided guard service for the embassy and other facilities within the Green Zone, according to a public statement by Charlene R. Lamb, State's deputy assistant secretary for international programs with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. In October, the contract for providing the embassy guards, valued at about $200 million a year, was awarded to SOC-SMG Inc. of Las Vegas.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Middle East District is advertising for its own private-security contractor to protect the construction projects it has going in Iraq through September of next year. Because the engineers will be withdrawing gradually from Iraq over that period, the number of sites to be protected gradually goes down. For example, it drops from 11 sites in February to six by May and then down to three in July through September.
However, if you think the job will be an easy one, think again. The engineers will provide the contractor with light-armored and mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles along with all weapons and ammunition, including pistols, assault rifles and light machine guns.
For each site, the contractor must have personnel to staff what are called security reconnaissance teams, whose role is to "facilitate the completion" of each project. These teams are to be composed of as many as nine contractor security employees, five of whom must be Iraqis. Using at least three light-armored vehicles, they are to provide security at the sites seven days a week during daylight hours.
The contractor not only will provide security at the sites but also will have escort teams for military and civilian personnel who visit the sites. Each of these teams will use four of the light-armored vehicles with 11 security guards. The teams also will include at least two certified emergency trauma medics trained in combat lifesaving skills.
If you want to think for a moment about how muchall of it will cost, mull over this: Last week, the U.S. Central Command, which until now has provided security for the Corps of Engineers in Iraq, announced that the danger was so great that it would continue using a private contractor, Aegis Defense Services, until the engineers can get security teams in place. The cost for adding the month of January to the Central Command contract is $15.3 million.