WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Calling it "a potential death sentence," several hundred diplomats expressed their resentment Wednesday over a new State Department policy that could force them to serve in Iraq or risk losing their jobs.
Some diplomats may be forced to serve in the new U.S. embassy complex under construction in Baghdad, Iraq.
Some at the hourlong town hall-style meeting questioned why they were not told of the policy change directly, learning about it instead from news organizations last week.
Others pointed out the risks of such a rule, considering the dangers of a war zone, lack of security and regular rocket attacks on U.S. personnel.
One State Department worker complained she was not provided medical treatment for her post-traumatic stress disorder after she voluntarily served in Iraq.
The session was marked by angry exchanges, according to an audio recording of the meeting held at the State Department.
The sharpest comments came from Jack Croddy, a 36-year veteran of the Foreign Service.
To loud applause from his fellow workers, he asked how the State Department could protect people in Baghdad or the Iraq countryside when "incoming is coming in every day. Rockets are hitting the Green Zone."
"It is one thing if someone believes in what is going on over there and volunteers," he said, "but it is another thing to send someone over there on a forced assignment. And I'm sorry, but basically that is a potential death sentence and you know it. Who will raise our children if we are dead or wounded?"
Last week's announcement said about 200 people would be informed this week they are "prime candidates" for assignment in Iraq, and those chosen would be notified later.
Selection of personnel will be finished by Thanksgiving, said Harry Thomas, the Foreign Service's director general, who led the meeting.
Those chosen will be given 10 days to respond, according to last week's announcement.
Unless they have a valid medical reason to refuse, those who decline to go could face dismissal, it said.
Thomas said he and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are committed to what he called a fair, open and transparent process in filling the requirements for State Department employees in Iraq -- at the Baghdad embassy and elsewhere in the country.
Most of the 250 jobs to be filled in the next rotation over the coming months will go to volunteers, he said. But about 50 remain open.
The State Department has relied solely on volunteers to fill overseas jobs in recent decades. Forced assignments have not been used since the Vietnam War era.
"We cannot shrink from our duty. We have all agreed to worldwide availability," Thomas said.
From now on, everyone in the Foreign Service would be required to serve one out of three tours in "hardship posts," he said.
Thomas reacted angrily to criticism of how the new policy is being handled, saying, "Don't you or anyone else stand there and tell me I don't care about my colleagues. I find that insulting."
Rice did not attend the meeting.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack addressed the issue at his regular midday briefing.
"There are risks involved in going to places like Iraq, Afghanistan, other places around the world, and there are a lot of people who are making real sacrifices on behalf of their country -- sacrifices being away from their family, taking certain risks with respect to their personal safety, just being in some of these places.
"I understand that. The secretary understands that." E-mail to a friend
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