4 former Iraq ambassadors push for embassy funds

AP News
Posted: Jun 16, 2011 7:08 PM
4 former Iraq ambassadors push for embassy funds

Four former U.S. ambassadors to Iraq urged top congressional leaders to back President Barack Obama's budget request of $5.2 billion for the embassy in Baghdad, the world's largest, as well as the costs of police training and some 5,000 security forces.

Pushing back against efforts in Congress to cut the funds, the four _ John Negroponte, Zalmay Khalilzad, Ryan Crocker and Christopher Hill _ wrote to House and Senate leaders last month that failing to fully fund the operation would jeopardize years of U.S. investments in Iraq.

"We, four former ambassadors to Iraq, believe that a robust embassy, providing a platform for other branches of the government, including the Office for Security Cooperation and the U.S. Agency for International Development, are essential to help guide Iraq to a sustainable and peaceful future," they wrote.

The money would cover operating costs for the embassy, a fortress-like compound the size of Vatican City; training for police as they shift to criminal and investigative work; and the expenses of a security force. The money also would cover satellite offices of the embassy around the country.

Eight years after the American invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, the United States plans to withdraw its remaining 47,000 troops from Iraq by year's end.

"We have been there and we know how important our new civilian presence will be helping Iraq move to a new and stable future," the former ambassadors wrote. "Additionally, we also know failure to adequately resource the new civilian presence puts at risk the investment America has already made to help Iraq establish a democratic, peaceful and economically stable government in this most important region."

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter.

With the departure of U.S. forces by Dec. 31, many of the budget requests have shifted from the Defense Department to the State Department. Budget-conscious lawmakers are more likely to target foreign aid spending than military dollars.