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US State Department flies surveillance drones over Iraq - report

The US State Department is operating a fleet of surveillance drones over Iraq, according to a New York Times report.

US State Department surveillance drones Iraq 30 01 2012Enlarge
The US State Department has confirmed it is operating surveillance drones over Iraq, a program for which Iraqi officials say it has not sought authorization. In this picture, an Israeli UAV Hermes 500 flies over the Hatzerim air force base in the Negev desert on June 30, 2011. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

The US State Department is operating a fleet of surveillance drones over Iraq, the New York Times reported. The aim is apparently to help protect the United States Embassy and consulates, as well as their American staff.

GlobalPost series: The Drone Wars

According to the last annual report from the department's Diplomatic Security branch, the idea of using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) in "high-threat locations" such as Iraq and Afghanistan was first explored in 2010, and successfully tested in Iraq in December of that year. It was decided to begin using UAVs in Iraq from 2011, in order to "watch over State Department facilities and personnel and assist Regional Security Officers with high-threat mission planning and execution."

The government will soon begin taking bids to manage drone ops in Iraq over the next five years, the Times said.

According to its report, "the drones are the latest example of the State Department’s efforts to take over functions in Iraq that the military used to perform." Until American troops withdrew in December, drone surveillance had been the preserve of the Pentagon and CIA; now they are gone, the diplomatic service must use its own resources, supplemented by private contractors, to assure the safety of its personnel.

More from GlobalPost: Meet the pilots who fly America's drones

The State Department confirmed that it had UAVs in Iraq, and stressed that they were "not armed, nor are they capable of being armed." The drones are said to be much smaller than military drones, with the primary purpose of collecting data on potential hazards.

Iraqi officials told the Times that Washington would require authorization to fly the drones, and claimed that so far there had been no consultation. Acting Interior Minister Adnan al Asadi said:

"Our sky is our sky, not the USA's sky."

The program is "another reminder of just how entrenched the American government plans to be in Iraq as the country struggles to find its footing as an independent, democratic nation," the Atlantic Wire said:

If the drones are needed to protect 11,000 US workers at the giant Baghdad embassy, perhaps we should rethink just how big that embassy needs to be.

More from GlobalPost: Iraq detains foreign contractors

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/iraq/120130/us-state-department-surveillance-drones-iraq