Middle East

US to cut Baghdad embassy staff

The chancellery building at the US embassy in Iraq 14 December 2011
The US will look into hiring more Iraqis at the embassy and using fewer contractors

The United States is looking to cut the size of its embassy in Iraq - the largest and most expensive US diplomatic mission, officials say.

A state department spokeswoman said the objective was to reduce the cost of the embassy, which employs about 2,000 diplomats and 14,000 contractors.

The New York Times quoted officials as saying that the US was preparing to cut the number of staff by up to a half.

The US military left Iraq in December, eight years after the invasion.

Iraq has experienced both a surge in violence and a political crisis since the withdrawal, with the country's most senior Sunni Arab politician, Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi, wanted on terrorism charges.

'Right-size'

On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that the US ambassador to Iraq, James Jeffrey, and other senior state department officials were reconsidering the size and scope of the embassy in Baghdad.

It was originally thought that the $750m embassy, which sits inside the heavily-fortified Green Zone, and the huge diplomatic operation, which reportedly costs $6bn a year, were necessary to establish normal relations and help ensure Iraq became a stable democracy.

However, diplomats now believe that approach was ill-advised, with many complaining an inability to leave the embassy because of security concerns and Iraqi obstructionism, according to the New York Times.

The Iraqi authorities have reportedly made it difficult for supplies to be delivered to the embassy compound and for diplomats to get visas, and have launched a crackdown on security contractors protecting diplomats.

On Wednesday, state department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland declined to comment on the New York Times article, but confirmed that the US was looking to "right-size" the Baghdad embassy.

"I think what we have here is an embassy structure that was built for a different time and that relied a lot on extensive contracting for a whole range of reasons - some of them historic, some of them security-related," she told reporters in Washington.

"Our judgment now is that we can adapt that for today's Iraq, do our diplomatic business just as well and just as rigorously, but far more efficiently," she added.

Ms Nuland said the US would look into hiring more Iraqis at the embassy and using fewer contractors, who can be "very expensive".

The embassy of Turkey - Iraq's largest trading partner - is believed to employ only about 55 people, only a handful of whom are diplomats.

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