US plans to cut Iraq embassy staff in half

The State Department is planning to slash its expansive embassy in Iraq by half, The New York Times reported Thursday, further diminishing U.S. presence in Iraq after the military withdrew in December.

The size of the embassy was going to be 16,000 people, designed to give the U.S. a robust presence in Iraq even without U.S. troops there, but now Ambassador James Jeffrey is reconsidering the size of the embassy, according to the report.

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Embassy spokesman Michael McClellan said that “over the last year and continuing this year the Department of State and the Embassy in Baghdad have been considering ways to appropriately reduce the size of the U.S. mission in Iraq, primarily by decreasing the number of contractors needed to support the embassy’s operations.”

The size of the State Department’s presence at the U.S. embassy in Iraq, the largest in the world, was intended to maintain U.S. influence within the government of Iraq, as well as to counter outside influences like Iran.

Since the U.S. military left Iraq, some sectarian tensions have re-emerged between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his Sunni opposition.

Life has become more difficult for diplomats in Baghdad since troops left in December, and the newly sovereign Iraqi government has interfered with things like visa approvals, according to published reports.

Last month, hundreds of private contractors were detained in Iraq over visa issues, prompting a U.S. trade group to ask for help from Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonPoll: Majority of GOP voters wish they chose another presidential nominee Trump campaign CEO met with ex-Carter adviser Trump surrogate apologizes for tweeting cartoon of Clinton in blackface MORE.

Iraq’s foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, said the problem with the U.S. embassy was “with the contractors, with the security arrangements," according to reports.