Iraq advisor eyed for State DAS for Iraq and Iran

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Brett McGurk, President Obama’s former nominee for Iraq ambassador, will likely be tapped as the next State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq and Iran, current and former US officials tell the Back Channel. The State Department plans to fuse the two offices, officials say.

McGurk has been serving as a senior Iraq advisor at the State Department since withdrawing from consideration to be US ambassador to Iraq last summer. McGurk did not immediately respond to a request for guidance from the Back Channel.

The McGurk appointment, which several officials said is a done deal, is expected to be announced after Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq Barbara Leaf is announced for her next assignment, which sources suggested may be deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy in Turkey. Former acting DAS for Iran Henry Wooster was made special Iran advisor to JSOC late last year, after he assumed helm of the office following the death of Philo Dibble.

McGurk, a trained lawyer who advised the last several US ambassadors to Iraq, developed a strong working relationship with Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki while negotiating the Status of Forces Agreement on behalf of Bush White House and later the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq for the Obama administration. He is said by sources to have particularly won the admiration of Antony Blinken, President Obama’s new deputy national security advisor and former national security advisor to Vice President Biden, who oversaw US Iraq policy in Obama’s first term.

McGurk withdrew from consideration for Iraq envoy last summer following the publication of years old emails about his relationship with a then-Wall Street Journal Iraq correspondent whom he later married.

Curiously, the latest State Department telephone directory lists US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford as the DAS for Iran, but officials tell the Back Channel that reflects more of a transition or holding pattern, not what is expected to be a long-term posting.

Acting Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs Beth Jones will not stay in the job in Obama's second term, the Back Channel has previously reported. Among the rumored candidates in the mix to possibly succeed her, US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson, Syria envoy Ford, and US Ambassador to Jordan Stuart Jones, who previously served as deputy US Ambassador in Iraq and DAS for Europe, diplomatic sources said. Other possibilities mentioned include US envoy to Iraq Robert Stephen Beecroft, US envoy to Turkey Francis Ricciardone, and NSS Senior Director for the Persian Gulf Puneet Talwar. The administration is, however, unlikely to pick an outsider/non career diplomat for the sensitive NEA post, especially in the wake of Benghazi, diplomatic sources said Friday, and suggested Patterson or Ford, both with past ambassadorships in the Arab world, would have an edge.

Separately, Amanda Sloat, a senior advisor to outgoing Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Philip Gordon, will accompany him to the White House, where he is due to start Monday as the next  Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Persian Gulf region, she informed colleagues in an email this week. Sloat too will start her new job as senior advisor to Gordon on the National Security Staff on Monday. The appointments come as President Obama heads to Israel, Ramallah and Jordan later this month.

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