The United States is mounting a massive diplomatic effort in Iraq now that military involvement has ended.
U.S. military forces have pulled out of Iraq, but don't think that ends U.S. involvement in that country. The action switches from the Defense Department to the State Department, where diplomacy will now be the focus.
The United States will maintain a massive diplomatic operation in Iraq at great expense and potential peril to try to keep Iraq's struggling democracy moving toward stability, and the U.S. will need to maintain this involvement indefinitely.
The U.S. embassy in Baghdad and consulates in other cities will employ about 16,000 workers at an annual cost of about $3.5 billion, making it the largest U.S. diplomatic operation in the world. Most of the 16,000 workers will not be actual diplomatic personnel, but rather support and security beyond the diplomatic contingent.
To safeguard the diplomatic operations, the State Department is employing a veritable army of 5,000 security contractors. Embassy personnel will ride in armored vehicles with armed guards who are contractors, and contractors will fly helicopters armed with heavy machine guns.
Overseeing a private security army is a new role for the State Department, and some in Congress as well as former Pentagon officials question whether the department can effectively oversee thousands of security guards.
Private security contractors, used extensively by the Defense Department in previous years, already have a terrible reputation in Iraq.
State Department officials say the mission of the contractors is not to stand and fight, but rather to run if a diplomatic mission comes under attack. Officials say there will be oversight and that only federal officials travelling with convoys can give the order to open fire should they come under attack.
Remembering the incident where Blackwater contractors opened fire in Baghdad in 2007, killing 17 innocent Iraqis, may cause some to question that assessment. The shooting caused a major controversy and an investigation later determined the convoy was not under attack.
But despite the specter of problems with the State Department managing such an operation, the U.S. has no alternative but to move forward with the major diplomatic effort.
After nearly nine years of war, about 4,500 U.S. soldiers' deaths, thousands more wounded physically and emotionally, more than 100,000 Iraqis killed and many more displaced because of sectarian violence, and nearly $1 trillion spent, much is at stake in Iraq.
While it will be a very difficult road and initial signs are not promising, the U.S. effort has brought some measure of stability and political progress to the country.
Not making every effort to continue to work with Iraq to strengthen its fledgling democratic political culture would mean those sacrifices were made in vain.