Washington must obtain Baghdad’s permission to use drones to watch over US facilities in Iraq, the Iraqi government spokesman said on Tuesday, adding he does not believe such a request has yet been made.
But US President Barack Obama spoke about surveillance drones in Iraq during an online event on Monday, indicating that they may already be in use.
“The embassy needs to get the approvals from the Iraqi government for any sort of surveillance which is needed,” Ali al-Dabbagh told AFP in a telephone interview, when asked about America’s use of surveillance drones.
“We could understand how important such surveillance (is) for the embassy and the security of the people working in the embassy, but at the same time we would insist that the permission needs (to come) from the Iraqi government,” he said.
Dabbagh said that, to his knowledge, such permission has not yet been requested by the United States.
“As far as I know, there is no request till now, but hopefully… they will apply and the Iraqi government would look on this issue.”
Obama referred to drones in Iraq during the event hosted by Google+ and YouTube on Monday, saying that: “The truth of the matter is we’re not engaging in a bunch of drone attacks inside of Iraq. There’s some surveillance to make sure that our embassy compound is protected.”
During a press briefing the same day, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland went into greater detail on the State Department’s use of drones.
Asked about the use of surveillance drones in Iraq, she said: “The State Department has always used a wide variety of security tools and techniques and procedures to ensure the safety of our personnel and our facilities.”
“We do have an unmanned aerial vehicle program used by the State Department. These are tiny little things. They are not armed. They are not capable of being armed.”
“What they are designed to do is help give us pictures over our facilities to help in their protection,” Nuland said, adding that “they can be used over the facilities or to track personnel who are moving.”
She did not however mention the countries in which they are used, saying: “It is only going to even be considered in critical threat environments. Iâm not going to get into the where for obvious reasons.”
Asked if the State Department obtained permission for their use, Nuland said: “We, the State Department, always work closely with host governments on the physical protection of our facilities and our personnel, and this was part and parcel of that,” without specifying whether or not permission was obtained.
The State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security 2010 Year in Review report meanwhile mentions that a “successful” unmanned aerial vehicle test was conducted in Iraq in December 2010, and that Diplomatic Security “plans to deploy unmanned aerial vehicles to support US Embassy Baghdad in 2011.”
The New York Times reported on Sunday that the United States’s use of a small fleet of surveillance drones in Iraq had angered Iraqi officials.
All US forces except for a relatively a small number under embassy authority departed Iraq on December 18, bringing to a close America’s almost-nine year war. Iraq has been eager to assert its sovereignty following the US military withdrawal.