State Department to Assume Lead on Civilian Effort in Iraq

ABC News' Kirit Radia reports:

With the US combat mission in Iraq ending today, the State Department takes over as the head of the civilian-led presence there. The department will be increasing its authority while drawing down its presence in many of the provinces, however it faces a number of challenges in doing so. It will no longer be able to depend entirely on the military for security and faces a Congress skeptical of the funding increases it has requested.

In order to cope with a still-tenuous security situation, the State Department plans to double the number of private security contractors it employs to about 7,000 by the end of 2011. It has also asked the Pentagon to leave behind some of its equipment so that it can safely travel throughout the country.

The department says it has asked the military to provide 25 Blackhawk helicopters and 50 heavily armored MRAP vehicles. Of course, the department plans to hire even more contractors to operate them. It also plans to hire contractors to operate communications equipment, dispose of explosive material, and operate counter rocket/mortar notification systems.

Exactly how large a staff will be needed to handle the expanded civilian mission is unknown. The US diplomatic and civilian presence in Iraq is already large, but the new size will depend in part on progress on the ground.

The US embassy in Baghdad is the largest American diplomatic facility in the world, employing 835 people including local staff. An additional 250 work in 16 provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) around the country. Those PRTs will eventually be drawn down.

Four of the PRTs will become longer term diplomatic missions. In Basra and Irbil they will become consulates and in Kirkuk and Mosul they will become “embassy branch offices” which will exist for about 3-5 years. Exactly how many civilians will staff those missions has yet to be determined.

The State Department will also take over police training from the Defense Department on October 1, 2011. The focus of that training, however, will change. Whereas the military currently provides basic recruit training, the State Department plans to train more senior level officers in logistical planning, curriculum development, and training more trainers. It has requested $314.5 million in its FY11 budget to cover three months of operating costs for the program.

The expanded civilian mission will cost much more than the department has requested in Congress, but it insists it will save US taxpayers $15 billion because the military is drawing down at the same time. Still, since the budget request is many times more than the State Department has requested in the past many on Capitol Hill have balked at the proposed budget.

Lawmakers rejected funding construction of the consulates through the supplemental, saying that the building of permanent structures should be done through the annual budget request. Officials say some on Congress have also expressed concern about the expense of continued police training.

-Kirit Radia

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