The State Department may halve the staff at the American embassy in Iraq – which, as the largest embassy in the world, costs $6 billion a year, according to a New York Times article. The United States had hoped that the expanded diplomatic mission would help Iraq on the path to democracy after the war, but officials say security issues and a lack of cooperation from the Iraqi government has rendered much of the 16,000-person staff ineffective. American officials are now largely confined to embassy grounds, limiting their interactions with Iraqis.
The size of the embassy raised questions among some Iraqis about America’s intentions. According to the article, Iraqi lawmaker Nahida al-Dayni expressed a common sentiment among Iraqis when she said: “The U.S. had something on their mind when they made it so big. Perhaps they want to run the Middle East from Iraq, and their embassy will be a base for them here.”
Some officials believe that a smaller staff in Iraq might actually increase American influence in Iraq: reducing the number of contractors could help build trust with Iraqis who have come to distrust the security firms. The embassy would compensate for the cuts by hiring Iraqis and sourcing more goods to the local economy, according to the story.
With this dramatic decrease in its diplomatic presence coming so shortly on the heels of military withdrawal, the United States must make Iraqi refugees a priority. The U.S. must ensure that the embassy in Baghdad has sufficient staff support to process requests for Chief of Mission (COM) approval, the first, lengthy step in a Special Immigrant Visa application that involves investigation into whether or not derogatory information pertaining to the applicant exists and, if it does, whether that information should bar him or her from receiving an SIV. These cuts cannot further delay a process that is already far too drawn out for far too many.
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