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Building an Embassy Fit for an Empire

The United States is building a massive embassy complex in the heart of Baghdad that is already becoming a symbol of America's imperial ambitions in the Middle East.
 
 
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The headline reads: "Thousands of angry Iraqis pillage billion-dollar U.S. Embassy in Baghdad." The article details the ransacking of the grandiose American Embassy by Iraqi mobs.

This is the story I expect to read one day within the next decade.

In the 1950s, when I was in high school in Baghdad, my friends and I admired the technological advances of America and the West. But we resented the colonial tendencies of the West (especially, at the time, those of the British). Many demonstrations were held in front of the British and American embassies. The Iraqis are a proud people, and they resented foreigners meddling in their affairs. And the British were, in reality, running the country through a puppet regime.

You may call it false pride; you may call it a preoccupation with dignity; or you may simply call it an honest concern about sovereignty. In any case, this is what the culture of the region dictates.

So, with this in mind, why has Washington never taken the cultural context of the Iraqis into consideration? Instead, Congress has appropriated nearly $1 billion to build the largest embassy in the world. A significant portion of that money is for security infrastructure. This future "fortress" is housed in Saddam Hussein's former palace -- providing more bad symbolism to the Iraqis.

Why are we building such a mammoth embassy in the heart of Baghdad? The embassy complex is on 104 acres, with 21 buildings and facilities. It will eventually house a U.S. staff of 5,000. According to a recent report in the Washington Post , it has more than twice the staff and 20 times the budget of our Beijing embassy. The embassy will surpass all others in terms of size and staffing.

One would think that we would be more clever than that in camouflaging our occupation. Are we to believe that Iraqis will not take notice of this massive complex in the heart of Baghdad?

We will be attempting to legitimize our presence with a "negotiated" agreement with the government of Iraq. If that happens, the people of Iraq will know that their elected government no longer is representing them but rather has become another puppet government. More Iraqis will become radicalized and join foes of the government.

American forces left Saudi Arabia in order to reduce hostilities toward us and to prevent further recruitment by groups opposing the United States and the Saudi royal family. Why would our officials think that the same will not happen in Iraq?

The Roman Empire, which (depending on your definition) lasted from 1,000 to 1,500 years, was the longest-lasting empire in history. Empires are destined to decline. Despite our intentions to stay in Iraq for a long time, Iraqis will not allow their country to be an extension of the American empire.

Adil E. Shamoo, born and raised in Baghdad, is a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus .

 
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