Wednesday, November 16, 2011

US Mission Baghdad: Who will taste-test the locally sourced food for the cafeteria?

Department of Defense Photo
Via WaPo's Walter Pincus:
The State Department, seeking to cut costs in Iraq, is looking to locally purchase some of the food its personnel eat, potentially breaking from the U.S. military’s practice of importing all food and fuel.

American diplomats ate in a cafeteria in one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces until 2008, when a new U.S. Embassy compound was completed. The embassy cafeteria has served food imported by the military.

Military commanders required that, for sanitary and security reasons, all food and fuel be trucked in from Kuwait in convoys protected by soldiers or private security contractors.

The State Department’s undersecretary for Management, Patrick Kennedy, said he will continue using the Defense Logistics Agency to bring in food and fuel after January.
While the military did not seek to purchase food or fuel on the Iraqi market, Kennedy said in an interview last week that he had asked the logistics agency to begin looking for reliable local sources for those commodities.

“It will never get down to zero,” Kennedy said about the need for imported goods, but he said that State had already been purchasing some fuel on the Iraqi market. Buying food and fuel locally, Kennedy said, would cut the overall cost and reduce the need for convoy security guards.
Read in full here.

I'm not worried about our diplomats acclimatizing to the local bacteria, mind you.  All FS folks do that with every country they are posted to.  They buy local food and shop in local stores; they buy fresh fruits and veges from the corner green grocer or the open market next door (often seasoned with Clorox at home).  Except in war zones.

And oh, I'm sure the State Department can save quite a bundle from buying fuel and food locally. Maybe I should applaud such fiscal creativity?  I just want to point out to Mr. Kennedy that folks do not drink fuel, see? If they procure food locally, will the embassy hire some supertasters? According to this account, the late King Hussein I of Jordan relates in his 1962 autobiography that he uncovered a Syrian spy plot involving his cook to poison his food. The tip-off?  Apparently, the untimely deaths of the palace cats, victims of the assassin's try-outs. In this neighborhood where America is quite hated, this is not beyond the realm of possibility. 

This is Iraq, and the embassy, the largest in the world with potentially over 15,000 personnel by end of the year. They all need to eat.  And not MREs.  The military, with its command and supply chain structure in place (and never short of staff) did not try to procure food locally in all its years of operation in Iraq. And the State Department which does not have comparable structures or staff, will now buy local to feed its staff. Frankly, the thought of that is giving me a rather queasy stomach.

Of course, given that we have had several outbreaks of foodborne illness in the United States, perhaps I shouldn't worry too much?

Except that -- way back in October, the National Iraqi News Agency reported that Muqtada Al Sadr, leader of the Shiite al-Sadr Trend, considered all US embassy employees in Baghdad as “occupiers”, stressing that resisting them after 2011 is an obligation.
"In response to a query of one of his followers about the increase of the embassy employees' number from 5000 to 15000 after the expiry of SOFA, Muqtada said “they are all occupiers and resisting them after the end of the agreement is an obligation.”

That's a special mention from an Iraqi leader who commands not just powerful religious and political influence but also has his own army. We may think this war is over, but it's not.  Iraq is still a war zone. And make no mistake about it.  Our soldiers will be home but our diplomats and their guards will be in the crosshairs even as they try to continue "reconstructing" that country.

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