Daniel McGrory / The Australian – 2006-05-05 08:56:45
BAGHDAD (May 04, 2006) — The question puzzles and enrages a city: how is it that the Americans cannot keep the electricity running in Baghdad for more than a couple of hours a day, yet still manage to build the biggest embassy on Earth?
Irritation grows as residents deprived of airconditioning and running water three years after the US-led invasion watch the massive US embassy they call “George W’s Palace” rising from the banks of the Tigris.
In the pavement cafes, people moan that the structure is bigger than anything Saddam Hussein built. They are not impressed by the architects’ claims that it will be visible from space and cover an area larger than Vatican City. They are more interested in knowing whether the US State Department paid for the prime real estate or simply took it.
While families suffer electricity cuts, queue all day to fuel their cars and wait for water pipes to be connected, the US mission, due to open in June next year, will have its own power and water plants to cater for a population the size of a small town.
The design of the compound is supposed to be a secret, but you cannot hide the concrete contours of the 21 buildings that are taking shape.
Looming over the skyline, the embassy has the distinction of being the only big US building project in Iraq that is on time and within budget. In a week when Washington revealed a startling list of missed deadlines and overspending on building projects, Congress was told the bill for the embassy was $592 million ($772 million).
The heavily guarded 42ha site — which will have a 3 meter-thick perimeter wall — has hundreds of workers swarming on scaffolding. Locals are bitter that the Kuwaiti contractor has employed only foreign staff.
Diplomats, after roughing it in Saddam’s abandoned palaces, should have every comfort in their new home. The plans are rumoured to include the biggest swimming pool in Iraq, a gymnasium, a cinema, restaurants offering delicacies from US food chains, tennis courts and a swish American Club for functions.
A State Department official said the size reflected the “massive amount of work still facing the US and our commitment to see it through”.
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