The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is the largest in the world, but America’s presence in Iraq has been shrinking. Some questions and answers about America’s role in Iraq, where the U.S. military fought an eight-year war that ousted President Saddam Hussein and cost hundreds of billions of dollars and more than 4,400 U.S. lives:
Q. How many U.S. troops are in Iraq?
A. There have not been any American combat forces in Iraq since the U.S. military mission ended in December 2011. There are a little over 100 U.S. military personnel in a section of the U.S. Embassy that coordinates U.S. foreign military sales to Iraq. It is called the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq and is headed by Army Lt. Gen. John M. Bednarek. That office is at the forefront of U.S. efforts to help the Iraqi government further develop its security forces. More than 100 U.S. Marines provide security at the embassy.
Q. Do U.S. troops still train Iraqi forces in the field?
A. No. The Obama administration had proposed providing troops for that purpose before the U.S. departure in 2011, but Baghdad rejected Washington’s insistence that its troops be granted immunity for prosecution while in the country. So what remained after 2011 was the small group that is coordinating security assistance. One of the largest training missions was based at the air base in the city of Balad, about an hour northwest of Baghdad, where three planeloads of Americans were evacuated this week as insurgents worked their way toward Baghdad.
Q. How big is the U.S. Embassy?
A. There are roughly 5,000 U.S. personnel in the embassy, making it the largest U.S. diplomatic post in the world. Until the recent burst of insurgent violence, the Obama administration had been planning to reduce the size of the embassy. At this point, it’s unclear whether that plan will be carried out, speeded up, or scrapped.
Q. Does the U.S. have a presence in Iraq outside of Baghdad?
A. Yes, the State Department has consulates in three cities: Basra in the Shiite-dominated south; Irbil in the Kurdish semi-autonomous region in northeastern Iraq; and Kirkuk, long-disputed between Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen.
Q. Are there U.S. military contractors in Iraq?
A. No. As of Dec. 15, 2013, all American contractors helping familiarize and train Iraqis with weapons and other military equipment purchased from the U.S. are working under Iraqi government contract. Previously they had been Pentagon contractors, but that changed when the Iraqi government took final control of the last of several sites where the contractors have been providing a range of military sales support and training.
Q. What kind of weapons are the Iraqis buying from the U.S.?
A. The biggest of the big-ticket items is the F-16 fighter. Iraq is buying 36 of them for $3 billion. It took official possession of the first plane at a ceremony this month at Lockheed Martin’s facility in Fort Worth, Texas, but none of the planes have yet arrived in Iraq. The U.S. also has recently sold a variety of high-end equipment, including hundreds of Hellfire air-to-ground missiles, tank ammunition, grenades, rifles and other weaponry. The Pentagon recently notified Congress of plans to sell an additional $1 billion in military equipment to Iraq.
Q. How much aid has the U.S. provided to Iraq over the years?
A. According to the bipartisan Congressional Research Service, the U.S. has provided about $56 billion in assistance since the U.S. invasion in 2003. That consists mainly of $21 billion in “relief and reconstruction” funds and $20 billion for the equipping and training of Iraqi security forces. That is separate from the cost of fighting the war. Also, on Friday the State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. is sending about $12 million in humanitarian aid to help nearly a million Iraqis who have been forced from their homes by recent fighting!!