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Embassy Row: ‘Cleavages’ in Iraq
Question of the Day
President Obama’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to Iraq impressed Republican senators in a confirmation hearing this week, but his key critic, Sen. John McCain, remains skeptical of his ability to handle America’s biggest and most-expensive embassy.
Brett McGurk, a 39-year-old lawyer and former senior adviser on Iraq for Mr. Obama and former President George W. Bush, has never been an ambassador but has served all five U.S. envoys to Iraq since U.S.-led forces overthrew dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.
At the hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Sens. James E. Risch of Idaho and Richard G. Lugar of Indiana seemed impressed by Mr. McGurk’s answers to their questions about the cost and size of the embassy.
Mr. Risch, a former governor, noted that the embassy has a larger budget than Idaho. The United States spent $6.5 billion on the embassy last year, and has budgeted $4 billion for this year. The embassy has a staff of 16,000, mostly contractors.
“It is so huge,” he said of the diplomatic mission.
“He’s not my choice,” the Arizona Republican told reporters earlier this week.
He chastised Mr. McGurk for failing to reach a deal with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to allow some U.S. troops to stay in Iraq past 2011. Mr. McGurk led talks with Mr. Maliki, but the Obama administration refused Mr. Maliki’s demand that U.S. troops be subject to Iraqi law.
In his testimony, Mr. McGurk warned of a “deep” divide between Iraq’s Shiite majority and Sunni minority. The rival Muslim sects “fear and distrust” each other, and “political discourse” is dominated by “score-settling” from earlier conflicts, he said.
‘RULED BY THE LAWLESS’
The chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee denounced Russia for “high-level corruption,” as her panel passed a bill to punish Russians responsible for the death of a lawyer investigating Kremlin graft.
“The entire world knows that the state of democracy and human rights in Russia, already bad, is getting worse,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican.
“Moscow devotes enormous resources and attention to persecuting political opponents and human-rights activists, including forcibly breaking up rallies and jailing and beating those who dare to defy it. Instead of the rule of law, Russia is ruled by the lawless.”
The committee approved a bill named for Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in Russian police custody in 2009. The bill would impose sanctions on those responsible for his death.
The bill is expected to win House approval, but a companion measure in the Senate sponsored by Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat, faces opposition.
Sen. John F. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, has not brought it to a committee vote. The White House also opposes the measure because it could create problems for its efforts to improve relations with Russia.
Opposition to the bills also is coming from private Russian sources.
Edward Lozansky, president of the American University in Moscow, held a panel discussion in Washington this week to rally opponents.
“There is reason to suspect that the Magnitsky bill is not so much to do with punishing his tormentors as with poking the [Russian] bear, or more precisely, Russian President Vladimir Putin in the eye,” he said.
• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email email@example.com. The column is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
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About the Author
James Morrison joined the The Washington Times in 1983 as a local reporter covering Alexandria, Va. A year later, he was assigned to open a Times bureau in Canada. From 1987 to 1989, Mr. Morrison was The Washington Times reporter in London, covering Britain, Western Europe and NATO issues. After returning to Washington, he served as an assistant foreign editor ...
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