U.S. troops quit Iraq, but large U.S. presence remains

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Dec 14, 2011

Kai Ryssdal: President Obama went to Fort Bragg, N.C., today. It’s the latest in a series of public events marking the end of the war in Iraq. American troops will be gone by New Year’s Eve.

But plenty of Americans will still be there. Diplomats working at, and thousands of contractors guarding, the U.S. Embassy. Marketplace’s Nancy Marshall Genzer reports.

Nancy Marshall Genzer: State Department staff will be staying on when U.S. troops pull out of Iraq. But they certainly won’t be alone.

Mark Toner: An overall diplomatic presence in 2012 will be about 15,000 to 16,000.

That’s State Department spokesman Mark Toner at a briefing earlier this month. And yeah, you heard him right. He said 15,000 to 16,000 people will be working in Iraq, under the auspices of the State Department. No small number.

John Pike heads up the military information website, globalsecurity.org.

John Pike: That’s got to be 10 times bigger than any other American embassy. The equivalent of the total embassy staff of every other American embassy on the planet.

And all but 2,000 of them will be contractors. Contractors will guard the massive U.S. embassy in Baghdad, as well as several consulates in Iraq. They’ll ferry diplomats around in helicopters and treat them in State Department hospitals.

Todd Harrison is a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. He says contractors will also be in charge of logistics.

Todd Harrison: Food, clean water. You name it. All the things that you need to support a miniature army of 15,000 people.

That miniature army will be operating on a shoestring. The State Department budget request for 2012 includes only around $5 billion for operations in Iraq — a fraction of the $46 billion Harrison says we spent this year.

Dov Zakheim was an undersecretary of defense in the administration of George W. Bush. He wonders if that’s enough for proper oversight.

Dov Zakheim: The State really only has a couple auditors out there. It’s a large country. All these contractors all over the place. Who’s going to see what they’re doing? I don’t know how State’s going to do it.

One way State could do it? Hire more contractors to supervise all the other contractors.

In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

We’re here to help you navigate this changed world and economy.

Our mission at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country. It’s a tough task, but it’s never been more important.

In the past year, we’ve seen record unemployment, stimulus bills, and reddit users influencing the stock market. Marketplace helps you understand it all, will fact-based, approachable, and unbiased reporting.

Generous support from listeners and readers is what powers our nonprofit news—and your donation today will help provide this essential service. For just $5/month, you can sustain independent journalism that keeps you and thousands of others informed.