US embassy in Iraq to inherit massive PR operation

WASHINGTON - The Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq is preparing to hand over more than power on June 30. It is also gearing up to pass along perhaps the largest and most sophisticated public affairs operation in the Middle East.

That operation will soon become the property of a new US embassy, which will serve as America's presence once the authority is dismantled. It's the job of embassies around the world to accommodate local press requests, but the size and scope of the demands in Iraq will likely make that embassy's press operation unmatched in scope and technical ability.

"Just because the CPA is being dissolved as of June 30, the media needs for Iraq don't change," said CPA director of strategic communications Rob Tappan. "We have literally 150 Western news outlets here, not to mention Arabic media and Iraqi indigenous media, so we're trying to ensure that communications and public affairs staff of the embassy will be able to meet those needs."

The public affairs staff at the new embassy will comprise PAOs not just from the Pentagon and the State Department, but representatives from less obvious federal agencies, such as the Departments of Transportation and Education. The hope is to install people with the skills and background relevant to each of the ministries now being established in Iraq.

Individual civilian contractors are expected to maintain a large presence as well, much as they do now with the CPA. Tappan estimated the size of the current public affairs staff at about 85.

In addition to personnel, the Iraq embassy will maintain a level of technical sophistication considerably more advanced that its counterparts. Because of security concerns in the country, the CPA has had to develop unique ways of communicating with reporters, often by using microwave and satellite links with those who can't make it into the CPA's "green," or safe, zone for briefings and interviews. Those technologies will be passed on as well.

"We have over 100,000 troops here, we have a coalition effort that is ongoing, and we have the eyes of the world on us, so it is incumbent upon us to make sure [the embassy] can handle those communications," said Tappan.

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