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Diplomats spared from forced Iraq assignments

  • Story Highlights
  • State Department threatened forced Iraq duty if not enough diplomats volunteered
  • Spokesman says Monday enough volunteers did step up -- 252 of them
  • Foreign Service officers will have one-year assignments in Baghdad and other areas
  • Iraq considered dangerous post so diplomats can't bring their families
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From Charley Keyes
CNN
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The State Department said Monday enough Foreign Service officers have volunteered for duty in Iraq that no diplomats will have to be sent there against their will.

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Construction continues last month on the new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

The department had threatened to force diplomats to accept assignments in Iraq or risk losing their jobs.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Monday that such "direct assignments" won't be necessary -- at least this year. "All of the Iraq jobs have been filled by volunteers, a total of 252," he told reporters at his daily briefing.

The Foreign Service officers will serve at the embassy in Baghdad as well as with provincial reconstruction teams around the country. They will report to their new one-year assignments in Iraq in the summer.

Iraq, like Afghanistan and a few other locations, is designated an "unaccompanied post," meaning no families are allowed.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will send a cable congratulating the Foreign Service for stepping up, McCormack said. "These are very well-qualified individuals who will be filling these jobs," he said. "We in no way lowered our standards."

The initial word that the department would turn to forced assignments on a scale unmatched since the Vietnam era stirred up a hornet's nest of criticism inside and outside the State Department.

At a department town meeting, one veteran Foreign Service officer, angry over how the policy change had been announced and upset at the dangers of the assignment, said a posting to Iraq is "a kind of death sentence."

Most of the initial pool of people identified as prime candidates for the Iraq jobs found out about the new policy in the news media, not by official notification from the department.

The department is careful to say the direct assignment policy remains in force. The whole controversial process of threatening to dismiss people if they turn down an Iraq assignment could reappear next year. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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