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State Department ramps up in Iraq as military winds down

Oct. 19, 2010 - 06:00AM   |  
By ANDY MEDICI   |   Comments
"This is the largest switch from a conflict situation to a civilian reconstruction situation that we've had since the Second World War," said Michael Corbin, the State Department's deputy assistant secretary for Iraq. Above, Corbin speaks at a meeting in Damascus, Syria, in 2008.
"This is the largest switch from a conflict situation to a civilian reconstruction situation that we've had since the Second World War," said Michael Corbin, the State Department's deputy assistant secretary for Iraq. Above, Corbin speaks at a meeting in Damascus, Syria, in 2008. (File photo / Agence France-Presse)

As the U.S. military mission in Iraq continues to wind down, a ramped-up federal civilian effort will remain for five years or longer.

About 1,085 State Department employees and 2,700 contractors are in Iraq now and will stay for at least three to five years as the department takes on greater roles training the Iraqi police and establishing a permanent diplomatic presence, said Michael Corbin, State's deputy assistant secretary for Iraq.

The department also anticipates hiring about 7,000 more security contractors for its embassy and consulate locations, if it gets the full $2.6 billion it requested for ongoing efforts in Iraq in 2011, he said. Corbin spoke in an interview Tuesday with editors and reporters from Gannett Government Media Corp., Federal Times' parent company.

The extra staff plus the 2011 budget request for Iraq efforts an increase from $2 billion in 2010 are because of the monumental size and scope of State's expanding efforts in Iraq, Corbin said.

Getting congressional support for the civilian effort is one of the key challenges he faces, he said.

"This is the largest switch from a conflict situation to a civilian reconstruction situation that we've had since the Second World War," Corbin said.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a total State Department budget of $54.1 billion for 2011, $2.5 billion less than requested. The department is operating at 2010 funding levels under a continuing resolution until Congress approves a 2011 budget.

International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement, which Corbin identified as a key agency in training new Iraq police forces, is facing a proposed budget from the Senate Appropriations Committee about $596 million less than the $1.6 billion requested.

The cost of the ongoing civilian-led efforts in Iraq is small compared with military operations, Corbin said. He compared the total funding to one week of military operations during 2005.

"We need to put our money where our mouths are," Corbin said. "We are talking about an investment in a country that is on in the right direction."

But he said State has had no problems recruiting people to go to Iraq, crediting the improved security situation. The department still must deal with a shortage of fluent Arabic speakers, however. Civilian employees are being trained in Arabic to help bridge the language gap, and fluent speakers are always being recruited, he said.

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