New U.S. embassy opening in Iraq delayed

WASHINGTON Thu Oct 4, 2007 11:22pm BST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A leading U.S. lawmaker complained on Thursday that last month's target date to open the mammoth new U.S. Embassy complex in Baghdad could now be delayed by months due to contractor deficiencies.

In a letter to U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, Democratic Rep. Tom Lantos said such delays raised concerns over the adequacy of the department's management of overseas building operations.

"These delays and deficiencies undermine the security and the living standards of almost 1,000 foreign service officers and other embassy staff that will be housed at the Baghdad Embassy," wrote the California lawmaker, who chairs the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs.

The State Department had no immediate comment on the complaints made by Lantos and a spokesman said he did not know whether Negroponte had yet received the letter.

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, when complete, will be the biggest in the world, costing some $600 million (294 million pounds).

It sits in the heavily fortified Green Zone and is aimed at enabling diplomats to be completely self-sufficient, providing sleeping quarters and including a shopping complex, cinema, gym and extensive sporting facilities.

Its construction has been fraught with difficulty and another leading Democrat, Rep. Henry Waxman of California, complained in August that problems included faulty electrical wiring and failure to build proper blast-resistant walls.

Waxman has also opened an inquiry into accusations the State Department's inspector general interfered with investigations into waste and fraud involving the construction of the embassy. The inspector general rejected those claims.

In a major embarrassment earlier this year, a U.S. architectural firm posted detailed drawings of the new embassy on its Web site, sparking complaints their release could endanger U.S. personnel.

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