Marines conducting embassy security assignments will soon have another Middle East consulate to look forward to.
The largest U.S. consulate complex in the world is currently under construction in Erbil, the capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan region. The State Department reports the new facility will span 51 acres and cost roughly $600 million.
The compound is estimated to be completed in 2022. And like all U.S. consulates, Marines will be posted there as security guards, according to Operation Inherent Resolve’s latest quarterly report to Congress.
The State Department awarded the original construction contract in June 2017 for $422 million. Over the past year, seven contract modifications were approved, adding another $9.5 million to the construction costs.
Construction is underway. At the end of June this year, the State Department reported that builders had completed the perimeter of the complex, a housing compound for State’s overseas construction managers and a construction staging area.
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Douglas Silliman and the Kurdistan Regional Government’s prime minister, Nechirvan Barzani, announced the start of construction with a ceremony on April 23.
In a statement delivered then, Barzani said that the new compound’s construction “is a sign of U.S. confidence and trust in the Kurdistan region, now and in its future ... within the framework of a federal Iraq,” according to local news outlet Kurdistan 24.
“We hope [the construction of a new compound for the US Consulate] will lead to an important, strategic, and long-term partnership with the Kurdistan region,“ Barzani said.
Although the Erbil location will be the largest U.S. consulate complex, the State Department’s diplomatic delegation in Baghdad, Iraq, is the world’s largest U.S. embassy at more than 100 acres.
The State Department has maintained a consulate in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region since 2011.
“The ties between the people of the Iraqi Kurdistan region and the United States of America have endured for decades," Silliman said during the April ceremony, according to Rudaw, a media outlet affiliated with the Kurdistan Democratic Party.
"The new consulate building demonstrates that the United States will stand with the people of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, as they build a future that will be brighter than the past.”
Kurdistan plays an important role in U.S. relations with the larger Iraqi government, where recent elections showed an undercurrent of anti-American sentiment.
In the country’s first parliamentary election since the fall of the Islamic State group, Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Shiite bloc secured the most votes of three top contenders. The electoral success of the candidates whom Sadr endorsed has concerned some U.S. officials.
Sadr’s Mahdi Army spearheaded attacks against U.S. and coalition forces in 2004 in Baghdad and Najaf and remained a significant threat through the U.S. surge in 2007 and 2008. However, in 2014, the group was credited with helping to fight Islamic State forces.
Building a large consulate in Kurdistan — where the Kurds have traditionally been strong allies of U.S. forces — could help guarantee ties to Iraq regardless of the disposition of the country’s federal government.