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Cablegate: Response to Mero Interim Report On Regional Embassy (Reo)

VZCZCXYZ0139
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHGB #2570 2671416
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 241416Z SEP 09
FM AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 4827

UNCLAS BAGHDAD 002570

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ASIG AMGT ABLDG ASEC IZ
SUBJECT: Response to MERO Interim Report on Regional Embassy (REO)
Office Hillah, Iraq

REF: Butenis-Arnston Information Memo 5/5/2009

(SBU) Sensitive but Unclassified. Protect Accordingly.

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Dated March 24, 2009, State IG Middle East
Regional Office (MERO) Interim Report on Role, Staffing, and
Effectiveness of the Regional Embassy Office (REO) in Hillah, Iraq
(MERO-IQO-09-04) made a number of recommendations about the future
of the REO. Specifically, it recommended that Embassy Baghdad and
OPA minimize unnecessary capital improvements to the REO, relocate
the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) Babil from the REO to
military Patrol Base (PB) Hillah, curtail or transfer REO Hillah
security and support staff to other locations in Iraq, and return
the Hillah hotel to the Government of Iraq.
The Office of Provincial Affairs (OPA) agrees with most of these
recommendations, except for that of moving PRT Babil to Patrol Base
Hillah. Instead, by mid-October, the PRT will be moved to Kalsu, a
more appropriate location on U.S. military forward operating base
(FOB) outside of the city. END SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) The Interim Report's specific recommendations and OPA's
responses to them are:

Recommendation 1: Continue the stoppage or curtailment of all
capital improvement projects at REO Hillah.

Response 1: All capital improvements non-essential to life support
or security at REO Hillah were halted in preparation of an
anticipated decision on PRT Babil relocation and Hillah hotel
decommissioning.

Recommendation 2: Relocate PRT Babil and other U.S. Government
employees to the U.S. Army's Patrol Base Hillah.

Response 2: OPA management and Multinational Corps-Iraq (MNC-I)
determined that the patrol base's downtown location would be
inappropriate to house the PRT. The closure of the REO and
departure of the civilian security staff will radically change the
movement profile of the PRT. Instead of moving in armored Suburbans
with civilian contract protective security details, PRT staff will
travel to meetings and other events in tactical military vehicles
driven by military movement teams. Moving the PRT and its military
support units to PB Hillah - located nearly in the center of Hillah,
would have given the appearance of violating Article 24 of the
U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement, which requires the U.S. military to be
out of Iraq's cities by June 30, 2009. Instead, OPA and MNC-I have
agreed to relocate the PRT to FOB Kalsu, north of Hillah and well
outside of the city.

Recommendation 3: Curtail or transfer REO Hillah security and
support staff to other locations in Iraq.

Response 3: OPA, the Embassy Baghdad Management section and the
Regional Security Office have been planning and coordinating on the
relocation and/or curtailment of the civilian contracted static
security force as well as "life support" staff. The protective
security details were reduced in August as the military assumed
responsibility for transporting PRT members.

Recommendation 4: Decommission and return the Hillah hotel property
to the Iraqi government.

Response 4: The decommissioning and return of the Hillah hotel
property is included as part of the PRT Babil relocation, and that
will begin as soon as the PRT has moved. A requirement of the
decommissioning process is a formal notification to Congress of
Embassy Baghdad's intention to close the REO. The Embassy asked the
Department to send the Congressional notification on August 10,
2009.

3. (SBU) The Conclusions and Recommendations section of the final
report also called for an acceleration of plans to relocate the PRT
and decommission the Hillah hotel. Specifically, the report stated
"OIG concludes the Embassy should consider closing REO Hillah within
Q"OIG concludes the Embassy should consider closing REO Hillah within
the next two to four months based on the estimates provided to the
Embassy." OPA was not opposed in principal to an accelerated
relocation and beginning the decommissioning of the Hillah hotel.
However, planning and coordination between USG civilian, military
and Iraqi military stakeholders, as well as the ongoing security and
political developments complicated an accelerated timeline.

4. (SBU) The logistical complexities of moving the PRT to FOB Kalsu
made it impossible to accelerate relocation of PRT Babil and
decommissioning of the Hillah Hotel. That said, the relocation of
PRT Babil, closure of REO Hillah and decommissioning and return of
the hotel are now proceeding. OPA and Embassy Baghdad Management
expect to have relocated the PRT by mid October 2009 and, following
the move, inventory and decommissioning, Embassy plans to return the
hotel to the Iraqi government at the end by December 2009.

Haslach

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