When the US military withdraws completely by the end of the year per President Obama’s announcement today, the State Department will take over the mission in 2012. Here’s a snapshot of what the American presence in Iraq will look like once the troops are gone:
EMBASSIES AND CONSULATES
There will be a US embassy in Baghdad which, when it opened in early January 2009, was one of the largest and most expensive ever built. There will be consulates in Basra and Irbil, which both opened in June 2011. There is also a diplomatic presence in Kirkuk that will eventually become a consulate.
The Provincial Reconstruction Teams that operated around the country, often in tandem with the military, have slowly closed as the US consolidated its civilian presence in the embassy and consulates. The last one, in Diyala, closed in September.
Roughly 1,700 people will be working under the American mission in Iraq at the various diplomatic posts. About 300 are Iraqi citizens (translators, etc) and a small number of third country nationals, so about 1,400 are Americans.
Those Americans come from various departments and agencies, including the State Department, USAID, Agriculture Department, Treasury Department, Commerce Department, and Department of Homeland Security (not to mention the intelligence agencies).
Officials stress that the size of this civilian footprint is on the same level of other major American missions like in India, China, Mexico, and Egypt. The biggest difference is the number of contractors employed, especially on the security side.
CONTRACTORS, CONTRACTORS, CONTRACTORS
The State Department is expected to have about 5,000 security contractors in Iraq as of January 2012 (they already have about 3,000 in country).
Additionally they will have 4,500 so-called “general life support” contractors, who provide food and medical services, operate the aviation assets, etc.
How does this compare to contractor levels now? It’s actually less.
The Department of Defense currently has about 9,500 security contractors in Iraq and several thousand general life contractors. At its peak in June 2009, DOD had 15,200 security contractors in Iraq.
The State Department expects the number of foreign contractors it hires to decrease over the next 3-5 years as it hires more local Iraqis and the security situation improves.
STATE DEPT’S AIR ASSETS
The State Department has slowly been building an aviation capability in Iraq in anticipation of the US military’s departure. To that end they have procured several dozen helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, owned by the State Department but operated by contractors, who can ferry diplomats and civilians around the country since they can no longer depend on the military for transport.
The air assets are also important because they will provide critical quick response capability in the event of an attack that requires security teams to be sent in or people to be evacuated.