Being here in America one barely hears about Iraq. War? What war? Washington is drawing down troops next year, the public is told, so the conflict is basically over. Shame about the ongoing violence. And continuing occupation, under a new name:
Can diplomats field their own army? The State Department is laying plans to do precisely that in Iraq, in an unprecedented experiment that U.S. officials and some nervous lawmakers say could be risky.
In little more than a year, State Department contractors in Iraq could be driving armored vehicles, flying aircraft, operating surveillance systems, even retrieving casualties if there are violent incidents and disposing of unexploded ordnance.
Under the terms of a 2008 status of forces agreement, all U.S. troops must be out of Iraq by the end of 2011, but they’ll leave behind a sizable American civilian presence, including the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the largest in the world, and five consulate-like “Enduring Presence Posts” in the Iraqi hinterlands.
Iraq remains a battle zone, and the American diplomats and other civilian government employees will need security. The U.S. military will be gone. Iraq’s army and police, despite billions of dollars and years of American training, aren’t yet capable of doing the job.
The State Department, better known for negotiating treaties and delivering diplomatic notes, will have to fend for itself in what remains an active danger zone.