US Embassy in Iraq facing cuts

AP News
Posted: Feb 15, 2012 2:12 PM
US Embassy in Iraq facing cuts

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is facing a 10 percent funding cut next year but top officials said Wednesday it will still be one of America's largest diplomatic missions in the world.

Contracting costs will be tightened and the size of diplomatic outposts may be trimmed, Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides told reporters in Baghdad.

He said the cuts would be taken as part of the $4.8 billion spending plan the State Department is requesting for the mission for the 2013 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

That amount is nearly 10 percent less than what the embassy asked for in spending and operating costs for the current year.

"Let's make no mistake: This is a strategically important country for us for a whole host of reasons," Nides said. "So it will always be a very large embassy. Now the question is, can you fine tune it? Can you shrink it?

"I think that's only the right question for all of us," he said.

Much of last year's budget was spent on one-time startup costs as the embassy began to take the lead in the U.S. effort in Iraq as the military withdrew.

When it opened in 2009, the embassy was the largest U.S. mission in the world. It is now rivaled by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, which has been beefed up over the last few years.

Ambassador James F. Jeffrey said the Baghdad embassy will remain the largest in the world "as long as I'm here."

Security costs will be the last expense to be cut, Nides said. He declined to estimate how many in the current work force of 16,000 embassy employees would remain after an ongoing review during what he described as a "transition" year.

Security remains a top concern in Baghdad, where deadly attacks still happen nearly every day despite a nationwide drop in violence.

Early Wednesday morning, gunmen wearing military uniforms killed the wife and two children of an Iraqi policeman in an attack on his home south of Baghdad. Police officials say the gunmen stormed the house Wednesday morning in the town of Jurf al-Sakhar, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of Baghdad. Among the dead was a one-year-old girl.

The policeman was seriously wounded and taken to a nearby hospital. A hospital medic confirmed the death toll. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.