'FORTRESS BAGHDAD' RISES ON THE BANKS OF THE RIVER TIGRIS
NEW US EMBASSY IN IRAQ AS BIG AS VATICAN CITY
MASSIVE COMPOUND TELLS IRAQIS US PRESENCE TO REMAIN IN IRAQ FOR DECADES TO COME
104 acres of US territory becomes a mini-city on the banks of the River Tigris
It will eventually house tens of thousands of people, mostly Americans, it will be the largest fortified compound in the world, as big as Vatican City, it will have its own dedicated defence force, a power station, a desalination plant, sewerage treatment works, swimming pools, office blocks, at least six apartment towers, a taxi service, cinemas, a shopping district and it is on schedule to be completed in June 2007.
It is 'Fortress Baghdad' and it is the new US embassy in Iraq. When it's finished, it will be the biggest embassy complex in the world, six time larger than the UN compound in New York City.
'Fortress Baghdad' will consist of 21 buildings spread across 104 acres and will house thousands of troops, security guards, diplomats, diplomatic staff and FBI agents, along with a detachment of special forces.
In a final insult to the former dictator of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, the embassy complex is being built right across the street from where the tyrant is now on trial. No doubt Hussein is allowed to glimpse the massive complex as he is taken to and from the court room.
The land on which the embassy is being built is actually owned by the United States, not leased. Ownership of the 104 acres of prime Baghdad land (should Baghdad become a bustling international centre of trade and commerce) was transferred over by Iraq's interim government in October 2004. The details and terms of the agreement have still not been disclosed.
The embassy was originally budgeted at more than $1 billion, but US Congress has only allowed, thus far, $592 million. The money comes straight from the emergency Iraq budget rammed through late last year. Around the same time that Congress cut the budget of the embassy, hundreds of Iraqi rebuilding projects, including medical centres and sewerage projects, also lost access to further funding.
While Baghdad is likely to remain vulnerable to power cuts and fresh water supply problems, the US embassy will be completely self-sufficient and is designed to remain functioning, even if the rest of the city, or country, descends further into chaos.
It will come as no great suprise to learn that Iraqis view the permanent nature of the massive complex as being indicative of the United States' plans to remain in the country for years, if not decades, to come.
The question will be, with so many diplomats, soldiers, FBI agents and special forces operatives permanently based in Baghdad, just how independently will the new government be allowed to operate?
The Iraq government is already housed within the 'Green Zone', surrounded by miles of concrete barriers and fortifications. The new Iraqi Parliment relies almost completely on US security, both military and privately contracted, for protection.
When the embassy is completed, the Iraq government is expected to relocate to new offices within the US compound for as long as the Baghdad remains the murder, kidnapping and terrorism capital of the world, and no doubt for many years after the city loses that distinction.
The United States has made an investment in Iraq's future that will clock over to $1 trillion dollars within a few years. They will be expecting a return on their massive investment.
That the US is going to pack up and leave Iraq any time soon is the stuff of fantasy. The hardened embassy mini-city within a city is proof positive that the US is planning to sustain a major, and highly influential presence, in Iraq for decades to come.
(Sources : The Washington Times, Associated Press)