The State Department, seeking to cut costs in Iraq, is looking to locally purchase some of the food its personnel eat, potentially breaking from the U.S. military’s practice of importing all food and fuel.

American diplomats ate in a cafeteria in one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces until 2008, when a new U.S. Embassy compound was completed. The embassy cafeteria has served food imported by the military.

Military commanders required that, for sanitary and security reasons, all food and fuel be trucked in from Kuwait in convoys protected by soldiers or private security contractors.

The State Department’s undersecretary for Management, Patrick Kennedy, said he will continue using the Defense Logistics Agency to bring in food and fuel after January, when U.S. forces are scheduled to be gone, but far fewer guarded convoys will be needed to meet the needs of the government and contracted personnel who will be working under the direction of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

While the military did not seek to purchase food or fuel on the Iraqi market, Kennedy said in an interview last week that he had asked the logistics agency to begin looking for reliable local sources for those commodities.

“It will never get down to zero,” Kennedy said about the need for imported goods, but he said that State had already been purchasing some fuel on the Iraqi market. Buying food and fuel locally, Kennedy said, would cut the overall cost and reduce the need for convoy security guards.

The issue arose publicly last month when the Army published a notice that it had quickly increased the number of contracted security teams hired to escort convoys of food and fuel coming from Kuwait. Army units had previously provided security for truckers hired by the Defense Logistics Agency for the convoys, and the truckers’ contracts require that they have security escorts.

In justifying the expanded contract, the Army said that without more contractors, military units scheduled to leave by Oct. 31 “would have to stay in theater longer than planned to provide the escorts and postpone their re-deployment operation.”

The Army said it turned to a private security contractor that already had been supplying security for food and fuel convoys inside Iraq. The firm, Olive Group North America, has had a contract since July to supply 10 convoy-escort teams, according to the Army notice. It will now take over security for shipments coming from Kuwait while gradually building up to 45 convoy-escort teams.

The cost of the contract, as well as the number of armored vehicles and armed security personnel that make up a convoy escort team, were redacted from the notice. However, an earlier version of the contract indicated that each team should consist of three to five lightly armored vehicles and 11 armed guards.

The State Department will pick up the funding of this contract when troops leave and pay out of its fiscal 2012 budget, according to the Army.

Kennedy said Thursday that he had always planned to hire private contractors to guard convoys coming from Kuwait and did not expect any U.S. military units to remain in Iraq to give him security support. If it turned that out some unit remained and could help, that would have been fine. “It is easier to reduce spending than it is to increase,” Kennedy said.

At the same time, State is looking for people to provide expertise in managing the fleet of helicopters and aircraft it will need to operate once U.S. forces leave Iraq.

This week, the department put out a pre-solicitation notice that it will seek a contractor next year to run operations and maintenance for the entire U.S. Embassy compound in central Baghdad. That compound, in what was once known as the Green Zone, “consists of 38 buildings, one service station and 16 guard towers on approximately 104 acres,” according to the notice.

Staff writers Ed O’Keefe and Dan Zak contributed to this report.