Iraqi Home Improvement

More than a decade has passed since Iraqi diplomats abandoned Washington in the midst of the Gulf War, leaving the magnificent ambassador's residence empty and under State Department control. Since 1991, when Iraq and the United States severed diplomatic relations, time has not been kind to the 1930s-vintage brick mansion -- whose leaky roof resulted in extensive indoor water damage, among other problems.

But last week, in what looks like preparations for so-called "regime change" in Baghdad, the State Department hired workers to start replacing the badly deteriorated asphalt shingle roof with composite "architectural shingling," copper flashing and a brand-new gutter and downspout system.

"It's a $40,000-plus job," said Scott Milhorn, sales rep for the roofing contractor C.K. McConkey & Sons of Mount Rainier. "The existing roof looks like a bomb went off. It's a very large house, but we could be finished by the end of the week. My impression is that sooner or later, somebody is going to actually live in it."

Maybe a friendly, post-Saddam Hussein ambassador from a freshly liberated Iraq?

The State Department made no effort yesterday to steer us away from such speculation, and pointed out that the construction money isn't coming from U.S. taxpayers, but from long-frozen Iraqi bank accounts.

Barkley Watch

An irregular feature in which we chronicle the short, happy career of the "Dean" of the Senate -- that is, Minnesota's temporary senator Dean Barkley.

The latest developments:

Our resident Barkley watcher, The Post's Mark Leibovich, reports that the senator is facing his inevitable ceding of power with guarded optimism -- which is to say, he has begun the planning for his "senatorial library." Barkley has decided to leave his collection of official senatorial papers to the University of Minnesota, his beloved alma mater. "It'll probably be something like six pages," he predicted.

Political Independent Barkley, who will soon be replaced by incoming Republican Norm Coleman, enumerated his chief accomplishments: voting for the just-signed Homeland Security bill and sponsoring legislation to provide $10 million for a new neighborhood center in West St. Paul in memoriam to his predecessor, Paul Wellstone and wife Sheila, who were killed in a plane crash.

In the meantime, the senator is looking for a job.

Hairsplitting

When it comes to hair, Matt Drudge is no match for Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry. Maybe that's why the cybergossip yesterday accused Massachusetts's junior senator ("the self-described 'Man of the People,' " Drudge snickered) of spending $150 every time he gets his locks shampooed and trimmed -- as well as colored and highlighted -- at Washington's posh Cristophe salon. "The cost of feeding a family of three for two weeks!"

We'd sure like to know where Drudge is grocery-shopping these days. In the meantime, Cristophe stylist Isabelle Goetz, who handles Kerry's hair issues, told us she charges only $75. "And $75 is not huge money in Washington, D.C. But I don't want to talk about my clients' private lives."

The senator's communications director, David Wade, issued a position paper, which said in part: "John Kerry has never had his hair colored or highlighted although a lot of people tell him he should . . . [and] if it looks like his haircut costs $150, he must be getting an extraordinary deal, because it's not even in that ballpark. I wonder if this is a 'not so subtle hint' from some in the hair care industry that Kerry should start covering his grey, but don't expect him to star in a Just for Men commercial soon."

We won't be surprised by anything.

THIS JUST IN ...

* Our neighbor Garry Trudeau, who draws that cartoon strip down there, shares his warm and fuzzy memories of fellow Yalie and frequent target George W. Bush on tomorrow night's installment of the ABC show "UpClose." "I know George a little bit from college," Trudeau tells Ted Koppel in the second part of a two-part interview. "And we served on an organization called the Armor Council. . . . And we would meet once a month and decide which bands to book and how many kegs of beer to order for the upcoming mixers. . . . George Bush showed great leadership qualities during those meetings. And if we said, well, I think we should order X amount of beer and he said we should order Y amount of beer, we went with Y. Because he was the rush chairman at Deke. He knew his beer."

* Shades of Barney Fife? Those "Mayberry Machiavellis" -- as President Bush's former faith-based-initiative chief, John DiIulio, dubbed political guru Karl Rove and his minions in a scathing critique of the Bush White House -- must have been scheming overtime yesterday. After Esquire magazine released DiIulio's comments -- in which he claimed that craven political considerations always trump serious policymaking in this White House -- Press Secretary Ari Fleischer slammed them as "baseless and groundless." DiIulio at first stood by his remarks, but then (after what must have been a series of blood-curdling conversations with former colleagues) abjectly apologized and asked forgiveness.