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

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Among the Iraqi elites who have suffered so much in the chaos of the post-Hussein period – the professors, doctors, architects, and artists – the impact of the new American giant is often expressed more symbolically but sometimes using the same terms.

Castles in the sand

"Saddam had his big castles; they symbolized his power and were places to be feared, and now we have the castle of the power that toppled him," says Abdul Jabbar Ahmed, a vice dean for political sciences at Baghdad University. "If I am the ambassador of the USA here I would say, 'Build something smaller that doesn't stand out so much, it's too important that we avoid these negative impressions.' "

Yet while the new embassy may be the largest in the world, it is not in its design and presence unlike others the US has built around the world in a burst of overseas construction since the bombings of US missions in the 1980s and '90s. Efforts to provide the 12,000 American diplomats working overseas a secure environment were redoubled following the 9/11 attacks.

Designed according to what are called the "Inman standards" – the results of a 1985 commission on secure embassy construction headed by former National Security Agency head Bobby Inman – recent embassies have been built as fortified compounds away from population centers and surrounded by high walls.

In the case of larger embassies in the most dangerous environments, as in Baghdad, secure housing is included, along with some of the amenities of home – restaurants, gyms, pools, cinemas, shopping – that can give the compound the air of an enclave.

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