Sunday, October 07, 2007

Building in Baghdad

The new American embassy in Iraq is a perfect metaphor for our experience there. It’s unfinished, behind schedule, unsafe to occupy, more expensive than expected and, from the start, beset by bungling and possible corruption.

Symbolically, the 21 buildings were intended to move American diplomats from Saddam Hussein’s former palace to a compound secure from bomb, mortar and rocket attacks where they could live and work in relative safety.

But the project has been mismanaged to the point that the more than half-a-billion-dollar budget has ballooned by another $192 million and two key structures will not be finished before 2009.

Now, as with everything else in Iraq, Congress is trying to find out what went wrong. The myriad of questions include:

*Why the Washington official overseeing the project has been barred from Iraq by Ambassador Ryan Crocker,

*Why formaldehyde fumes in a facility built to house embassy guards by a Kuwaiti contractor and a faulty electrical system installed by a former Halliburton subsidiary have made it unsafe to open,

*Why offices to house Gen. David Petraeus and his staff are now being reconfigured to safeguard classified material at an additional cost of $14.7 million.

Like nation-building in Iraq, construction of the largest U.S. embassy in the world is not going well. State Department officials, with their Blackwater security guards, are going to be spending an unpredictable amount of time, money and human lives trying to get it right.

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