June 28, 2012
Troops Have Withdrawn From Iraq, But U.S. Money Hasn’t
By Walter Pincus
The State Department is planning to spend up to $115 million to upgrade the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad, already its biggest and most expensive in the world, according to pre-solicitation notices published this month.
Remember, it has been 3 1 / 2 years since American diplomats moved into the 104-acre, $700 million facility and only four months after State officials in February talked about trying to cut back the U.S. presence there.
State’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) put out a statement Wednesday saying new planning began after it was determined there needed to be “a larger population on the Baghdad Embassy compound, due to the consolidation of satellite diplomatic facilities and property around Baghdad.”
The statement added, “The consolidation takes the overall diplomatic property in Baghdad down by one-third, but increases the personnel working and living on the Embassy compound.”
The compound sits in the heart of Baghdad’s International Zone and houses 1,350 U.S. government employees who work under the ambassador’s authority.
According to a June 14 pre-solicitation, the estimated construction cost is put at between $60 million and $80 million and is expected to take two years to complete. Among the project elements, along with the central utility power plant, is an underground fuel storage facility holding a 21-day supply and upgrades on a compound-wide fire water distribution, the domestic water system, the sanitary sewer system, the storm water system and the telecommunications system.
A June 12 notice seeks contractors to rehabilitate space in an existing classified embassy annex building. They are to build, in an area about 60 feet long and 60 feet wide, a data hall with an office area. This must be a highly classified project because the projected cost is between $20 million and $35 million and requires “electrical/telecommunication system upgrades [and] extensive mechanical and plumbing systems.”
Potential contractors are asked to show how they “would typically staff a project of this type and size with cleared American workers,” meaning those with security clearances.
With the increased compound population, OBO determined it was “essential to upgrade and repurpose the facility infrastructure, such as the power plant and annex office space, to accommodate the increased capacity,” the statement said. And while the pre-solicitation notice carries estimated cost ranges, OBO said real project costs are not available.
The House subcommittee on national security, homeland defense and foreign operations on Thursday morning will take up the transition in Iraq from a military to a civilian-led mission. Questions about past and present spending in Iraq, including embassy costs, will inevitably come up.
Rep. John F. Tierney (D-Mass.), ranking minority member on the subcommittee, said Wednesday that he has “long expressed concern about the U.S. government’s significant footprint in Iraq,” and looks forward to the panel’s continuing scrutiny of “the transition in Iraq and the taxpayer dollars that are being spent in that country.”
Last month, State sharply reduced what was supposed to be a multimillion-dollar continuation of the U.S. military’s police training program. Where the initial proposal called for State to have 400 trainers, as of last month there were 100. Since the program had little Iraqi support, the trainers, mostly senior U.S. police officials are living, protected by their own contracted security guards, at former U.S. military forward operating base Shield, which officially is the Baghdad Police College Annex facility.
The United States has spent about $100 million on the Police College facility, having built living quarters, a dining facility, an office building, a new gymnasium and a helicopter landing site. At year’s end, the facility will be turned over to the Iraqis because State did not get land rights use for more than one year.
Multimillion-dollar projects undertaken in past years when U.S. funds flowed freely keep turning up. On June 17, the grand opening of the $15 million Al-Nahrain Center for Strategic Studies “with funding from the U.S. embassy,” was announced in an embassy news release. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called the facility “an important step in the process of state building.” But, according to the National Iraqi News Agency story, Maliki never mentioned the U.S. role in funding the complex.
The United States is far from out of Iraq. However, Congress has sharply cut into the administration’s original request for $2.26 billion for fiscal 2013. The Senate Appropriations Committee included just $1.1 billion with the biggest cut being total disapproval of $850 million that was to pay for the Iraqi police training program. The House Appropriations Committee attached language limiting some fiscal 2013 funds until Iraq develops a logistic and maintenance system for its security forces and a sustainment program for granted free or purchased U.S. weaponry.
Here are signs that Congress is more closely watching the now diminished flow of money to Iraq.