U.S. State Department operating mini-drone fleet over Iraq

The Takeaway

In the weeks since the U.S. military pulled out of Iraq, the State Department has stepped up its own efforts to ensure the safety and security of its employees and facilities.

Part of that effort is a new drone program, one that has small drones, with a wingspan of about 18 inches, flying above U.S. Embassy facilities and convoys, looking for explosive devices and other threats to American safety. But Iraqi officials, according to a new report from The New York Times are none-too-pleased with the program.

Eric Schmitt, terrorism correspondent for The Times, said the drones are so small that they're unarmed and are meant to use sensors and optics to provide real-time information to Embassy security officials. The drones were originally tested for use in December 2010 and then operated on a trial basis last year.

"Once the military left, they've had to step up their operations, and they're now in the midst of very sensitive negotiations with the Iraqis on this much fuller operational tempo," Schmitt said.

The State Department unmanned aerial vehicles are operated by private security contractors, Schmitt said. To continue, though, they'll need the endorsement of the Iraqi government.

That's been elusive, as Iraqi politicians take to criticizing anything having to do with the U.S. in an effort to build favor with their constituents.

"Three senior officials, in different ministries, they said they had not yet been consulted in terms of these type of arrangements," Schmitt said. "This is very politically sensitive in Iraq, just with this whole question of sovereignty, in terms of what they're willing to say in public, on the record, or even on background, as opposed to what's really going on. It's a bit tricky."

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