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Largest US Embassy slated for Baghdad
Updated: 2004-06-10 09:13

The State Department is planning to have more than 900 Americans staff the U.S. Embassy in central Baghdad, assisted by 600 to 700 Iraqis in the biggest American embassy in the world, department planners said Wednesday.

A former palace of deposed President Saddam Hussein will serve as the new embassy until a site is chosen in the capital as a replacement for the embassy seized by Iraq  in 1970, said Francis J. Ricciardone, the department's coordinator for Iraqi transition.

The embassy will be supplemented by U.S. diplomatic offices in four regions of Iraq, he said.

Building the embassy will take at least two years and the State Department intends to pay close attention to what Iraqi officials have to say about a site, Ricciardone said.

"We are going to be listening to them. We are not going to be building things there are not their priority," he said.

Ricciardone said the value of the seized embassy will be included in the negotiations, but he did not say whether the United States would seek compensation.

About half of the 900 U.S. officials assigned to Baghdad will be at their desks as Iraqi sovereignty is officially restored by June 30. Some of them will be drawn from the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority, which goes out of business during the transition from U.S. occupation.

Ricciardone said a number of U.S. ambassadors now serving in other countries would be assigned to work under John Negroponte, who will become the U.S. ambassador to Iraq after diplomatic relations are formally restored, probably in July.

Ricciardone, U.S. ambassador to the Philippines, said there is great eagerness within the foreign service to be assigned to Baghdad.

Without saying how many officers are fluent in Arabic, Ricciardone said, "We wish we had more."

He made no mention of the risks, but Iraq continues to be a dangerous place.

Assailants ambushed a convoy of security contractors traveling to Baghdad's airport, killing two Americans and two Poles working for a U.S. security company, their employer said Sunday.

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