There’s this article from Vanity Fair in November of 2007 that I just found. It’s a very long article about the history of U.S. embassies in general and this behemoth specifically.
The Mega-Bunker of Baghdad
The new American Embassy in Baghdad will be the largest, least welcoming, and most lavish embassy in the world: a $600 million massively fortified compound with 619 blast-resistant apartments and a food court fit for a shopping mall. Unfortunately, like other similarly constructed U.S. Embassies, it may already be obsolete.
Inside the Green Zone the talk of progress slowed and then died. The first of the nominal Iraqi governments arrived and joined the Americans in their oasis. The rest of Baghdad became the fearsome “Red Zone,” and completely off limits to American officials, although reporters and other unaffiliated Westerners continued to live and work there. Meanwhile, through institutional momentum and without regard to the fundamental mission—the reason for being there in the first place—the Green Zone defenses kept growing, surrounding the residents with ever more layers of checkpoints and blast walls, and forcing American officials to withdraw into their highly defended quarters at the Republican Palace, whereupon even the Green Zone became for them a forbidden land.
That was the process that has led, now, to this—the construction of an extravagant new fortress into which a thousand American officials and their many camp followers are fleeing. The compound, which will be completed by late fall, is the largest and most expensive embassy in the world, a walled expanse the size of Vatican City, containing 21 reinforced buildings on a 104-acre site along the Tigris River, enclosed within an extension of the Green Zone which stretches toward the airport road. The new embassy cost $600 million to build, and is expected to cost another $1.2 billion a year to run—a high price even by the profligate standards of the war in Iraq.
America didn’t use to be like this. Traditionally it was so indifferent to setting up embassies that after its first 134 years of existence, in 1910, it owned diplomatic properties in only five countries abroad—Morocco, Turkey, Siam, China, and Japan.
The new U.S. facilities by contrast were showcases for modernist design, airy structures drawn up in steel and glass, full of light, and accessible to the streets. They were meant to represent a country that is generous, open, and progressive, and to some degree they succeeded—for instance by simultaneously offering access to libraries that were largely uncensored, dispensing visas and money, and arranging for cultural exchanges. A fundamental purpose for these structures at that time remained firmly in mind.
The State Department set up a panel to study the question of security. It was chaired by a retired admiral named Bobby Inman, who had headed the National Security Agency and been second-in-command at the C.I.A. Ask a security question and you’ll get a security answer: in June 1985 the panel issued a report that called predictably for the wholesale and radical fortification of roughly half of the 262 U.S. diplomatic facilities overseas. Modest security improvements were already being made, with the shatterproofing of windows and the sealing of doors, as well as the installation of steel fences, potted-plant vehicle barricades, surveillance cameras, and checkpoints in embassy lobbies. Inman’s report went much further, recommending the relocation of embassies and consulates into high-walled compounds, to be built like bunker complexes in remote areas on the outskirts of towns. Equally significant, the report called for the creation of a new bureaucracy, a Diplomatic Security Service to be given responsibility for the safety of overseas personnel.
The program was approved and funded by Congress, but it got off to a slow start and had trouble gathering speed. No one joins the foreign service wanting to hunker down in bunkers overseas. The first Inman compound was completed in Mogadishu in 1989, only to be evacuated by helicopter in 1991 as angry gunmen came over the walls and slaughtered the abandoned Somali staff and their families. A half-dozen other compounds were built to better effect—at enormous cost to American taxpayers—but by the late 1990s construction was proceeding at the rate of merely one compound a year. Eager to open new facilities in the former Soviet states, the State Department began putting as much effort into avoiding the Inman standards as into complying with them.
And much, much more.