Calling the American embassy in Iraq a “symbol of grandiose, unrealistic ambitions,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said Tuesday he finds it increasingly difficult to justify spending billions of dollars in a country that remains volatile after the last American troops pulled out this winter.
The U.S. is pressed to find money for other embassies in Africa and elsewhere “where we have real interests, commercial interests," Leahy said at a hearing where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was testifying. Leahy called the funds for the U.S. embassy in Iraq “a blinking red light” in the fiscal 2013 budget. Blasting the Shi'ite-led government as seeming "more autocratic every day," Leahy said: “I'm finding it harder and harder to vote for money to continue these programs in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan."
The State Department requested $4.8 billion for the civilian-led missions in Iraq for fiscal 2013. Of this, about $1.8 billion would go toward funding police training and military-assistance programs transitioned from the Defense Department. Another $2.7 billion in operations funding would largely support the embassy—which has swelled to about 16,000 diplomats and contractors in Baghdad—and three consulates.
Leahy, chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, noted the enormous overhead cost of providing security and housing for the police development program's staff, which is five times more costly than the actual program.
Now that the last American troops pulled out of the country this winter, Clinton said Washington is moving towards a more normal relationship with Iraq. Already, Clinton said the 2013 request “shows a reduction as a result of normalizing operations."
Clinton said the U.S. will continue reduce costs and "right-size" the embassy in Baghdad by hiring more Iraqis, sourcing more goods locally, and reducing dependence on contractors.