- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 6, 2009

BAGHDAD

The United States dedicated its largest embassy ever Monday, officially opening a fortress-like compound in the heart of Baghdad’s Green Zone as a testament to America’s commitment to Iraq.

Addressing a dedication gathering under tight security, Ambassador Ryan Crocker said the $700 million embassy was testimony to America’s long-term friendship with Iraq, where about 146,000 U.S. troops are deployed.

“I think we have seen a tremendous amount of progress, even since September. But the development of this new Iraq is going to be a very long time in the making, and we need to be engaged here,” Mr. Crocker said in an interview ahead of Monday’s opening of the new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Attacks once again rocked Baghdad a day after a suicide bomber killed at least 38 people at a Shi’ite shrine just four miles north of the site of the new embassy. Four bombs exploded in different parts of Baghdad just before noon Monday, killing four people and wounding 19.

During the ceremony at the new embassy, U.S. Marines raised the American flag over the building, which sits on a 104-acre site and has space for 1,000 employees. The adobe-colored buildings resemble a corporate campus surrounded by huge walls of reinforced concrete.

“It is from the embassy that you see before you that we will continue the tradition of friendship, cooperation and support begun by the many dedicated Americans who have worked in Iraq since 2003,” said U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte, who served as the first American ambassador to Iraq after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, at the ceremony, held in the complex’s courtyard.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a longtime Washington ally, praised President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003 and topple the regime of Saddam Hussein, who was executed two years ago.

“The building of this site would not be possible without the courageous decision by President Bush to liberate Iraq,” said Mr. Talabani, a Kurd. “This building is not only a compound for the embassy but a symbol of the deep friendship between the two peoples of Iraq and America.”

U.S. diplomats and military officials moved into the embassy Dec. 31 after vacating Saddam’s Republican Palace, which they occupied when they captured Baghdad in April 2003. The palace will now house the Iraqi government and the office of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who did not attend Monday’s ceremony because he was traveling in Iran.

For nearly six years, the grandiose and gaudy palace, with its gold-plated bathroom fixtures and enormous chandeliers, served as both headquarters for occupying forces and the hub for the Green Zone - the walled-off swath of central Baghdad that was formally turned over to the Iraqi government on New Year’s Day.

The handover came on the same day that a security agreement between Iraq and the United States went into effect. It replaced a U.N. mandate that allowed the United States and other foreign troops to operate in Iraq.

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