The Cable

State Department readies its larger role in Iraq

The State Department plans major increases in its Iraq mission, with hundreds more employees there and a stepped-up diplomatic presence outside Baghdad as the U.S. military prepares to leave later this year.

A new fiscal 2010 supplemental request asks for $2.1 billion for use in Iraq, the bulk going to set up two permanent consulates and three temporary "Provincial Development Teams." The funding will enable another 129 State Department positions in Iraq, bringing the total to 664 by the end of this fiscal year. One consulate will be in Basra, one in northern Iraq. The PDTs will be along the Arab-Kurb fault line near Kirkuk, Ninewa, and Diyala, and $735 million in the supplemental request is designated for the security needed to protect civilians in the new outposts. The new presence around Iraq is described in the budget request as crucial "to mitigate ethno-sectarian conflict, to minimize the risk of instability, and to seize strategic policy opportunities."

Some have wondered why the money for Iraq came in the supplemental request rather than through the State Department's regular budget request for fiscal 2011.

"The most important point in terms of the supplemental is timing," Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew said in an interview with The Cable, "The plan to transfer a set of responsibilities from the military to civilian control is on a pretty fixed timetable. In order for us to make this transition process to work smoothly, there's a fair amount of work that has to be done in advance."

The fiscal 2011 budget request asks for another $2.6 billion for Iraq, but that will focus more on longer term needs, said Lew.

"Enduring diplomatic presence comes a little later than police training, so there's more of that in the 2011 proposal than the supplemental," he said, adding, "Planning for this Iraq mission has been intensive."

Experts said that the U.S. attention to lingering ethnic tensions in Iraq is crucial over the next few months as the fragile reconciliation process there continues.

"There's a view that sectarian conflict is done and gone; on the other hand that would be very unusual as a historical matter," said Stephen Biddle, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, "It's one of these half full, half empty kind of glasses."

In the new budget request, more than $500 million is to go to the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Bureau (INL), known as the "drugs and thugs" bureau, for the police training mission. That mission will be transformed from focusing on individual soldier training to more administration, investigative, and organizational assistance, said Lew.

The Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction criticized INL in a recent report  for lax oversight of the police training mission to Iraq, which is contracted out largely to DynCorp, but Lew said that more contract oversight personnel were on the way to Baghdad and the poor past accounting of DynCorp funds was being corrected.



The Cable

Hill Dems to Obama: Don't forget Iraq

More than two dozen liberal-leaning members of Congress sent a letter to President Obama Thursday calling on the administration not to lose its focus on Iraq, especially with upcoming elections there that could prove crucial to Obama's stated timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces.

The letter, led by Massachusetts Rep. Bill Delahunt, a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee chairman, was also endorsed by committee chairman Howard Berman, D-CA, House Oversight National Security subcommittee head John Tierney, D-MA, and several leaders of the progressive caucus. The impetus for the letter was a recent dispute over the attempt by Shiites to ban hundreds of Sunni candidates from the polls and several delays that have already pushed the elections to March 7.

"What has prompted the letter has been a profound concern about the initial election ruling and continuing concerns about letting the recent gains slip away, given the realities on the ground," Delahunt told The Cable.

An Iraqi appeals court ruled this week against the ban on the Sunni candidates, but the issue is now being brought before Iraq's Supreme Judicial Council, the highest court in the land.

Vice President Joseph Biden traveled to Baghdad late last month during the height of the dispute in what was widely viewed as an effort to mediate, though rhetorically, Biden maintained the dispute was a matter for the Iraqis to work out among themselves.

Delahunt said lawmakers wanted to go on record as imploring the administration not to lose focus on Iraq as attention shifts to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"We want the administration to continue to comply with the withdrawal dates but not to lose any focus, because this is one of the most critical moments in terms of the Iraq adventure," he said, adding, "Part of the purpose of the letter too was to refocus members of Congress on this election. There's a sense that we've moved on from Iraq."

Stephen Biddle, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that continued U.S. government involvement in Iraq was crucial over the next few months as the fragile reconciliation process there continues while U.S. military forces withdraw.

"I think we still have an important role to play," said Biddle, "Iraq isn't at war and neither is it at peace. It's at the earliest stages at what's typically a very long transition."