Green Colonialism

[Preamble: Before asking me again why I've written about something that might be construed as political, see my note on our social taboos here.] 

Guy Dinmore, the Washington reporter for Financial Times, has today (January 8, 2007) written one of his best pieces of journalism about the largest embassy in the World being finished in Baghdad.

It is not the Saudi, Iranian, Turkish or Syrian embassy in Baghdad whose acreage puzzles Dinmore. One would expect these neighboring countries to have large embassies in Iraq. If not for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, these countries would probably continue to have even larger trade with their neighbor.  (All accounts seem to point to the fact that such trade continues despite the new barriers.) For example, Iranian durable goods were reported to be flooding Baghdad bazars before the U.S. invasion and for quite some time after it. (This trend may in fact be continuing. As a larger-scale example, Iran continues to provide electric energy to Iraq.) History also has some facts that would suggest Iraq's neighbors may probably want to maintain larger embassies in Baghdad. Baghdad was built with the remains of Persia's capital (Ctesiphon) some 1300 years ago. Iraq continues to have family, ethnic and religious ties to modern-day Persia, Iran. (In fact, one of the candidates in the last presidential race in Iran was born in Najaf, Iraq.) Many noted Persians are buried in what became Iraq some 80 years ago. Prior to that time, Iraq was an Ottoman province jointly ruled by the Ottomans, Persians and the Arab tribes to the South. I did learn about that one in my mother-in-law's 1908 Encyclopedia Britannica, not to mention Persian, Turkish and Arabic historical sources that the English-language world may dispute. (Really EB should have all of its old versions online and available for archival and research purposes! This would be a service that the British Museum Library, the embodiment of "The World's Knowledge" could provide with the government budget that should be directed to it after the British troops currently deployed in Basra return to the U.K.) You may check for yourself if you can get your hands on a 1908 EB ... but you may not be as luck as I, who have an antique dealer for a mother-in-law.

Furthermore, we're told about Iranian, Saudi, Syrian and Turkish interference in Iraq on a daily basis on our most esteemed news media. So shouldn't these "interfering" countries maintain large embassies and staff in Iraq and vice versa? Presumably, well-equipped embassies can advance the cause of interference ... Oh ... I forgot that it is the U.S. troops that have come from 12 time zones away and invaded Iraq and that it is the occupying forces that have in the past arrested diplomats from these countries who had come to Iraq based on the invitation of the government in Baghdad ... but wait ... That's not invasion, occupation and interference in sovereign states of another country .... It is just humanitarian good will .... Sorry, I forgot the propaganda for a moment ... It happens every once in a while.

Here is what FT's Guy Dinmore writes about the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the world's largest embassy ever built ("US Twists Civilian Arms To Fill Fortress Baghdad," FT, January 8, 2007, page 2):

The embassy compound being built inside Baghdad’s Green Zone covers 104 acres, making it six times larger than the United Nations compound in New York. A city within a city for more than 1,000 people, it will have its own water, sewers and electricity, six apartment buildings, a Marine barracks, swimming pool, shops and some walls 15 feet thick.

The State Department has told the Financial Times that the US civilian presence in Iraq has “grown considerably beyond the numbers projected for the new embassy compound”, which is scheduled for completion by September 1 at a cost of $592m (€455m, £307m).

The department and other agencies, such as the Pentagon and Treasury which also supply staff, are working out how to accommodate the extra numbers that Mr Bush is expected to announce this week. Recruits are being attracted to one-year posts by a mix of cajoling and inducement – an almost doubling of their salary, four trips outside Iraq and guarantees of favourable postings afterwards.


“Baghdad dwarfs everything else. It is becoming a monster that has to be fed every year with a new crop of volunteers,” says one diplomat.

So far the State Department has not resorted to compulsory or “directed” assignments, a practice last used during the Vietnam war. But it has warned it would put assignments elsewhere on hold “if Iraq and Afghanistan and other priority posts are not staffed”.

Among the many recommendations of the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton report on Iraq, issued in December, was that diplomats and other US personnel should be obliged to serve in Iraq if there were not enough volunteers.

Financial Times, January 8, 2007, page 2

And, of course,  only the rarest of individuals understand the significance of all this:

John Brown, who resigned as a US diplomat in protest against the 2003 invasion and now teaches public diplomacy, says the embassy “will be a symbol of the US occupation and the near-total separation of US embassy staff members from the society with which they are supposed to interact”.

“Indeed, the planned embassy reminds me of the huge, cavernous buildings that housed Soviet missions in eastern Europe during the cold war. They were hated by the local population for all they stood for: secrecy, arrogance and domination.”

Of the 1,000 or so US civilians staffing Baghdad at present – not including large numbers of private-sector bodyguards – there are about 200 career diplomats, plus some 70 in the provincial reconstruction teams that are set to expand.

Many other staffers are so-called “3161s” – recruited ad hoc and, according to the State Department, “fully qualified for their highly technical jobs”. Diplomats question this, saying many are incompetent and have been hired for their loyalty to the Republican effort.

Financial Times, January 8, 2007, page 2

Well-done to Dinmore for once again proving the value of good journalism -- telling the truth honorably and as it is, with few wrinkles if any -- and to John Brown for having a keen sense of seeing things as they are and for taking a stand from within his profession when it most mattered!


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