The U.S. embassy due to open in Iraq will be the largest American mission in the world. It will draw staff from a variety of backgrounds and experience. For many it will be their first exposure to the Middle East and Arab and Islamic culture. An independent research firm in Washington has produced a special training video to help prepare them for the job.
With the surge in attacks against Americans and growing hostility toward the U.S. occupation, an assignment in Baghdad for many diplomats is a daunting and dangerous prospect.
Keith Bowen is Executive Producer of the training video, called The Iraq Experience. ?It's not just like going to Paris or another average foreign service post,? he said.
As part of a $10 million grant from the Congress, the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) has produced a two-hour video, on DVD, to sensitize American diplomats and civilian contractors to life in Iraq. A USIP expert involved in the program says the State Department does not itself offer such a specialized orientation.
Former U.S. ambassador George Ward directs the institute's training programs. ?As we're learning day by day, the task of post conflict reconstruction is every bit as difficult if not more so than the job of winning wars,? he noted.
Project coordinator Robert Perito said that the video draws on lessons learned by U.S. officials and American contractors who have been working in Iraq during the past year.
?When we got into this business of looking how we could do lessons learned and quickly translate lessons learned into training programs that would be useful for people going out to Iraq, we were almost immediately then greeted with the prospect of the June 30 transition date where on one date at the end of June, the leadership and structure of the U.S. presence will switch from one oriented to the Department of Defense to one oriented to the Department of State,? he said.
In the video an Iraqi diplomat and a Washington-based Iraq expert also offer a primer on Iraq's culture and religious and ethnic diversity. The video also deals with Iraqi expectations of a long-term U.S. presence.
The computer-friendly orientation program does not deal with personal security concerns. The government handles that in separate security training sessions.