When the idea of building a new US embassy in Baghdad was first mooted by the American administration in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, there seemed to be a grandiose logic to it.This article was written over a year ago:
The compound, by the side of the Tigris, would be a statement of President Bush's intent to expand democracy through the Middle East. Yesterday, however, the entire project was under fresh scrutiny as new details emerged of its cost and scale.
Rising from the dust of the city's Green Zone it is destined, at $592m (£300m), to become the biggest and most expensive US embassy on earth when it opens in September.
It will cover 104 acres (42 hectares) of land, about the size of the Vatican. It will include 27 separate buildings and house about 615 people behind bomb-proof walls. Most of the embassy staff will live in simple, if not quite monastic, accommodation in one-bedroom apartments.
The US ambassador, however, will enjoy a little more elbow room in a high-security home on the compound reported to fill 16,000 square feet (1,500 sq metres). His deputy will have to make do with a more modest 9,500 sq ft.
They will have a pool, gym and communal living areas, and the embassy will have its own power and water supplies.
But commentators and Iraq experts believe the project was flawed from its inception, and have raised concerns it will become an enormous, heavily targeted white elephant that will be an even greater liability if and when the Americans scale back their presence in Iraq.
Recently, Oliver Poole, a British reporter, visited another of the American "super-bases," the still-under-construction al-Asad Airbase ("Football and pizza point to US staying for long haul"). He observes, of "the biggest Marine camp in western Anbar province," that "this stretch of desert increasingly resembles a slice of U.S. suburbia." In addition to the requisite Subway and pizza outlets, there is a football field, a Hertz rent-a-car office, a swimming pool, and a movie theater showing the latest flicks. Al-Asad is so large -- such bases may cover 15 to 20 square miles -- that it has two bus routes and, if not traffic lights, at least red stop signs at all intersections.
There are at least four such "super-bases" in Iraq, none of which have anything to do with "withdrawal" from that country. Quite the contrary, these bases are being constructed as little American islands of eternal order in an anarchic sea. Whatever top administration officials and military commanders say -- and they always deny that we seek "permanent" bases in Iraq -- facts on the ground speak with another voice entirely. These bases practically scream "permanency."
We are planning to stay in Iraq until the last drop of oil is wrung out of the sand.