Delay in opening U.S. embassy in Iraq

Safety concerns and contractor fumbles delay the opening of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

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The plan was to open the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad — America’s largest embassy — in July 2007 at a cost of $592 million. But like so many other U.S. projects in Iraq, things went awry. The final price tag came in at $736 million; the building didn’t open for business until April 2008; and the project spawned at least one investigation. In the country where the American diplomatic mission is the largest and arguably the most critical in the world, the 1,000 U.S. government employees had to wait months for their embassy to be declared complete. The delay resulted from a controversy with construction contractors and safety concerns pointed out by State Department inspectors. The chief contractor for the embassy compound, First Kuwaiti, had never built an embassy before and said it did not know that certain building materials had to be approved by the State Department. Plus, internal documents suggest that officials in Baghdad rushed to meet construction deadlines, leaving safety risks unresolved. This delayed the project for months while State inspectors examined the embassy. What they found were hundreds of violations of the contract, along with bursting pipes and fire safety code violations. Repairs and remediation needed to address safety concerns added to the already climbing price for the embassy. The State Department is also investigating its Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO), which reportedly hired contractors whose charges were unjustifiably expensive. The State Department press office did not respond to a request for comment, but Patrick F. Kennedy, the undersecretary of state for management, told The Washington Post that he was pleased with the work done by First Kuwaiti. “The contractor has not shirked any of their responsibilities,” he said.

Follow up:
On April 14, 2008, the State Department declared the embassy complete. The embassy was officially opened and inaugurated on January 5, 2009. The agency’s investigation of the OBO continues.