The Civilians Take Over in Iraq: President Obama

September 1, 2010 By Jordan Smith

In his Oval Office address on Iraq last night, President Obama highlighted the importance of elevating development and diplomacy moving forward in Iraq. “As our military draws down, our dedicated civilians — diplomats, aid workers, and advisors — are moving into the lead to support Iraq as it strengthens its government, resolves political disputes, resettles those displaced by war, and builds ties with the region and the world,” he said. “We must use all elements of our power — including our diplomacy, our economic strength, and the power of America’s example — to secure our interests and stand by our allies.”

In taking the lead in Iraq, the State Department plans to double the number of private security contractors it employs to about 7,000 by the end of 2011. It has also asked the Pentagon to leave behind some of its equipment to ensure employee safety. The US embassy in Baghdad is the largest American diplomatic facility in the world, employing 835 people including local staff. An additional 250 work in 16 provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) around the country.. By October of next year, the State Department will assume responsibility for the crucial tasks of training the Iraqi police; about 2,400 civilians at the Baghdad embassy and other diplomatic sites will be tasked with carrying out the more than 1,200 specific tasks the American military has identified to be handed over to them, transferred to the Iraqis or phased out. The plan to transition to civilian-led operations in Iraq powerfully demonstrates the essential role civilians play in U.S. foreign policy, a role that must be supported with sufficient resources to be effective.