The United States opened its new embassy building in Baghdad on Monday, a step meant to symbolise its transition from occupying power to an ally of a sovereign Iraqi government. In recent weeks American envoys have gradually moved into the $592 million newly-built compound, the world's largest U.S. embassy building.
The opening of the new embassy is in line with a change of power that was effected on New Year's Day, when U.S. forces in Iraq officially came under an Iraqi mandate. According to Reuters, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani attended the opening ceremony.
In a courtyard between two wings of the new building, the Iraqi national anthem was played, then U.S. Marines raised an American flag to the tune of the Star Spangled Banner. "It is from here men and women, civilian and military, will help build the new Iraq," Negroponte conveyed in his speech.
U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker called the embassy's opening "a new era for Iraq and United States relations".
Talabani thanked the United States for helping create a democratic Iraq "which will serve as a model for other peoples of the eastern world".
The embassy has 1,200 employees, including diplomats, servicemen and staff from 14 federal agencies, U.S. embassy spokeswoman Susan Ziadeh told Reuters. "Its scale reflects the importance of the U.S.-Iraq bilateral relationship," she said. "It reflects a more normal situation. This is a broadening of the relationship because the situation is more secure."