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Iraqis see red as U.S. opens world's biggest embassy

The 104-acre, 21-building enclave was cleared for occupancy recently and will open next month.

Baghdad's 'Big Dig': The US Embassy in Iraq plans to move diplomats into the mammoth fortress in May. Cost overruns and delays have plagued the $740 million project on the banks of the Tigris River.

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For the average American who will never see it, the new US Embassy in Baghdad may be little more than the Big Dig of the Tigris.

Like the infamous Boston highway project, the embassy is a mammoth development that is overbudget, overdue, and casts a whiff of corruption.

For many Iraqis, though, the sand-and-ochre-colored compound peering out across the city from a reedy stretch of riverfront within the fortified Green Zone is an unsettling symbol both of what they have become in the five years since the fall of Saddam Hussein, and of what they have yet to achieve.

"It is a symbol of occupation for the Iraqi people, that is all," says Anouar, a Baghdad graduate student who thought it was risk enough to give her first name. "We see the size of this embassy and we think we will be part of the American plan for our country and our region for many, many years."

The 104-acre, 21-building enclave – the largest US Embassy in the world, similar in size to Vatican City in Rome – is often described as a "castle" by Iraqis, but more in the sense of the forbidden and dominating than of the alluring and liberating.

"We all know this big yellow castle, but its main purpose, it seems, is the security of the Americans who will live there," says Sarah, a university sophomore who also declined to give her last name for reasons of personal safety. "I heard that no one else can ever reach it."

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