U.S. consulate in Erbil, a tranquil city in northern Iraq, will be even
bigger. It functions as a joint consulate/Office of Security
Cooperation facility, which means it will have the largest concentration
of American troops other than the embassy in Baghdad. U.S. officials
say the consulate there will eventually at least 1,400 people, including
more than 100 troops.
The plan to station U.S. military personnel
in the two consulates highlights the fact that regardless of the
ongoing political debate over whether American troops should remain in
Iraq past the December 31st deadline, the U.S. isn't going anywhere.
current debate between Washington and Baghdad focuses on whether to
leave 3,000-5,000 troops in Iraq. The U.S. embassy in Baghdad, by
contrast, will soon employ more than 16,000 people across the country,
though not all will be American citizens.
The ongoing expansion of
the diplomatic facilities--including two smaller outposts in Mosul and
Kirkuk--is deeply controversial in Washington, where many lawmakers have
questioned whether it makes sense for the U.S. to devote such an
enormous percentage of the State Department's total budget to one
A Jan. 31 report from the Senate Committee on Foreign
Relations, for instance, estimated that the State Department will spend
$25-$30 billion in Iraq over the next five years. The panel said that
U.S. diplomatic operations in Iraq in fiscal year 2012 will spike to at
least $3 billion, roughly a quarter of the State Department's global
operations budget. Other State initiatives here - like the large and
growing Office of Security Cooperation--will push the fiscal 2012 numbers
It's far from clear that Congress is willing to
spend that kind of money on Iraq, given the war's deep unpopularity at
home. Lawmakers slashed State's fiscal year 2011 budget request by
almost 20 percent, to $2.1 billion from the $2.6 billion originally
requested. Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont told The Huffington
Post earlier this month that he doesn't "know why [Iraq] has to be one
of our highest priorities."
"I think we've reached the point in
Iraq where whatever we're spending money on, we're throwing good money
after bad," he told the Web site.
On the ground in Iraq, however,
the expansion has long since begun. The U.S. embassy in Baghdad is
already the largest U.S. diplomatic outpost in the world, housing more
than 3,000 civilian officials, troops and contractors within its
104-acre compound in Baghdad's Green Zone. The embassy has 21 permanent
buildings, but staffers have been frantically installing new trailers
to provide temporary housing for the hundreds of additional American
personnel who are expected to move into the compound as the U.S.
military withdrawal accelerates.