The Worst Assignment at State

Embassy staffers assail U.S. security
BY LEILA FADEL
McClatchy News Service

Dismayed employees at the U.S. Embassy complained about their security as they work within Baghdad’s Green Zone.

BAGHDAD — U.S. Embassy employees in Iraq are growing increasingly angry over what they say are inadequate security precautions in the heavily fortified Green Zone, where recent mortar and rocket attacks have claimed the lives of six people, including two U.S. citizens.

In spite of the attacks, Embassy employees complain, most staff members still sleep in trailers that one described as ”tin cans” that offer virtually no protection from rocket and mortar fire. The government has refused to harden the roofs because of the cost, one employee said.

NEGLIGENCE ALLEGED

A second official called it ”criminally negligent” not to reduce the size of the embassy staff, which a year ago was estimated at 1,000, in the face of the increasing attacks and blamed the administration’s failure to respond on concerns that doing so might undermine support for President Bush’s Iraq policy.

”What responsible person and responsible government would ask you to put yourself at risk like that? We don’t belong here,” the employee said, adding, “They’re not going to send us home because it’s going to be another admission of failure.”

Embassy employees have been ordered not to talk about security concerns or precautions with reporters, but three State Department employees in Baghdad discussed the issue with McClatchy Newspapers. All three asked not to be identified for fear that they’d lose their jobs.

PUBLICIZED VISITS

The officials also complained that important security precautions appeared to have been set aside during highly publicized official visits. During a March 31 visit from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a high-profile presidential candidate, the embassy lifted a requirement that bulletproof vests and helmets be worn at all times. When a rocket landed outside the U.S. Embassy while Vice President Dick Cheney and several reporters visited last week, no warning sirens were sounded.

”Where were the sirens then?” one official asked. “We don’t belong here, and people are afraid to say it.”

Official spokesmen have rebuffed requests for information about the embassy, citing security concerns, and repeated requests for comment from the Embassy and the State Department in Washington went unanswered Monday. On Sunday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called security the ”utmost priority for” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker.

The Green Zone, which is home to the U.S. Embassy and many Iraqi government offices and officials, has long been touted as an oasis of relative peace amid the chaos of Baghdad. Entry into the zone, which covers about four square miles in central Baghdad, requires special permits, and visitors must pass through a maze of checkpoints. Attacks have been relatively rare.

SUICIDE BOMBER

But in the past several months, security in the zone has deteriorated. On April 12, a suicide bomber set off an explosion in the Iraqi parliament’s cafeteria, killing a lawmaker.

Rocket and mortar attacks also have become more frequent since the United States began a surge of additional American troops into Baghdad. On March 27, a rocket that landed behind the embassy killed an American security contractor and a U.S. soldier. On May 3, a rocket attack killed four foreign contractors.

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