Tim Arango / New York Times – 2012-05-14 00:10:13
BAGHDAD (May 13, 2012) — In the face of spiraling costs and Iraqi officials who say they never wanted it in the first place, the State Department has slashed — and may jettison entirely by the end of the year — a multibillion-dollar police training program that was to have been the centerpiece of a hugely expanded civilian mission here.
What was originally envisioned as a training cadre of about 350 US law enforcement officers was quickly scaled back to 190 and then to 100. The latest restructuring calls for 50 advisers, but most experts and even some State Department officials say even they may be withdrawn by the end of this year.
The training effort, which began in October and has already cost $500 million, was conceived of as the largest component of a mission billed as the most ambitious US aid effort since the Marshall Plan. Instead, it has emerged as the latest high-profile example of the waning American influence here following the military withdrawal, and it reflects a costly miscalculation on the part of US officials, who did not count on the Iraqi government to assert its sovereignty so aggressively.
“I think that with the departure of the military, the Iraqis decided to say, ‘OK, how large is the American presence here?’ ” said James Jeffrey, the US ambassador to Iraq. “In various areas they obviously expressed some concerns.”
Trainees Stop Coming
Last year, the State Department embarked on $343 million worth of construction projects around the country to upgrade facilities to accommodate the police training program. But like so much else in the nine years of war, occupation and reconstruction here, it has not gone as planned.
Last month, many of the Iraqi police officials who had been participating in the training suddenly refused to attend the seminars and PowerPoint presentations given by the Americans, saying they saw little benefit from the sessions. The Iraqis have also insisted that the training sessions be held at their own facilities, rather than US ones.
The largest of the construction projects, an upgrade at the Baghdad Police College that included installing protective covering over double-wide residence trailers (to shield against mortar attacks) and new dining and laundry facilities and seminar rooms, was recently abandoned, unfinished, after an expenditure of more than $100 million. The remaining police advisers will instead work out of the US Embassy compound.
The State Department has consistently defended the program, even after it was whittled down in scope and criticized publicly by the head of Iraq’s Interior Ministry.
“I don’t think anything went wrong.” said Thomas Nides, deputy secretary of state for management and resources. “The Iraqis don’t believe they need a program of that scale and scope.” Nides said the scaling back of the program was part of his broader effort to reduce the size of the embassy.
US Reverses Course
Last year, in preparation for the withdrawal of the military, the State Department planned a large expansion of its role here designed to maintain influence and be a counterweight to the vast political influence of Iran.
Yet, after doubling the size of the embassy staff to nearly 16,000 people, mostly contractors, the State Department quickly reversed course this year — partly because of Iraqi objections to the expanded operation — and is now downsizing. It currently has slightly more than 12,000 people in Iraq.
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