Sensitive security vetting at U.S. Embassy in Iraq is turned over to troubled State Department

Move made despite series of scandals

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Despite more than 10 years in Iraq, the report says, U.S. officials “lack firsthand knowledge of local conditions and the best places to recruit potential candidates,” in part because American diplomats “rarely venture beyond the international zone” surrounding the embassy.

That caution can be explained by the relative instability of security in Iraq: U.S. military forces are no longer the target, but suicide bombings and sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslims continue to rage.

But shifting the responsibility for security to the State Department raises its own questions. Elsewhere in the region, the department’s track record on security in postwar environments has been mixed.

Benghazi’s shadow

The department suffered a particularly unfortunate blow last year when armed militants stormed a makeshift diplomatic post and CIA house in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, killing U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

In Benghazi, the State Department worked with a British company that hired local guards to protect the diplomatic post. A report by Reuters in October noted that the company Blue Mountain Group hired about 20 Libyan men — including some who said they had minimal training — to screen visitors and help patrol the makeshift post.

Some sustained injuries and said they were ill-prepared to protect themselves or others when armed militants stormed the facility.

But foreign policy insiders generally discourage comparing the Wild West atmosphere of eastern Libya to the postwar security situation in Iraq.

In Baghdad, the embassy’s website says, “a local guard force and other security support personnel” are part of the operation, which also includes “special agents of the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service” as well as “a Marine security guard detachment.”

No such detachment was on hand in Benghazi.

Iraq also is home to a U.S.-trained military and security force of more than 400,000 active soldiers, unlike Libya, where local militias — some of them with hard-line Islamist agendas — continue jockeying for power.

Furthermore, one State Department official said, “since the U.S. military has pulled out of Iraq, we have not had any U.S. loss of life due to any attacks.”

That said, the official added: “We’re not putting any less emphasis on how we deal with safety and security of our personnel, especially in a high-threat post like Iraq, where security is our No. 1 priority.”

“In no way are we minimizing that threat,” the official said.

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About the Author
Guy Taylor

Guy Taylor

Guy Taylor is the National Security Team Leader at The Washington Times, overseeing the paper’s State Department, Pentagon and intelligence community coverage. He’s also a frequent guest on The McLaughlin Group and C-SPAN.

His series on political, economic and security developments in Mexico won a 2012 Virginia Press Association award.

Prior to rejoining The Times in 2011, his work was ...

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