Coming soon to California: a consulate of Iraq.
To take the strain off the Iraqi embassy in Washington, D.C., and help expatriates scattered around the United States, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry plans to place consulates in Detroit and San Diego.
Detroit and San Diego?
“Yes, there’s quite a big community in Detroit,” Labid Abbawi, Iraqi foreign undersecretary, said.
“Also we have quite a big number in San Diego as well,” Abbawi said. “There are also in Los Angeles a lot, but we thought San Diego was more suitable.”
There were 3,705 Iraqis in Detroit, 2,039 in Los Angeles and 822 in San Diego, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.
But there are also Iraqi communities in east San Diego County, particularly Christian Chaldeans. Many small market owners and professionals in the area are Iraqi. Some estimate that, including second generation, there are 25,000 Iraqis in the county.
Those numbers are likely to increase as the U.S. State Department gears up its post-war refugee program. The Bush administration set a goal of admitting 12,000 Iraqi refugees this year.
The San Diego consulate should open before the end of the year, Abbawi said.
It will assist Iraqis with documentation, passports, visas and other consular services.
Americans flying from the West Coast to Iraq will also find it convenient. Now they will be able to pick up their visas in San Diego, which could be preferable to waiting a day or two in Amman, Jordan, to get the necessary papers.
For now, it may be only reporters and military contractors who would care, but Abbawi thinks wider need could be coming soon.
If Iraq has turned the corner on security, as Abbawi believes, tourism should follow.
“We hope the day will not be too long where you’ll be able to come and have a walk in Baghdad quite freely,” Abbawi said. “I hope this will not be long.”
Times staff writer Tony Perry contributed to this report from San Diego. Smith reported from Baghdad.