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State Department warns of forced service in Iraq

  • Story Highlights
  • U.S. diplomats may be forced to fill positions in Iraq, State Department says
  • "We face a growing challenge of supply and demand," says cable to employees
  • Last fall, foreign service officers objected to being forced to work in a war zone
  • State Department found volunteers to fill the needed posts last year
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From Elise Labott
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. diplomats may be forced to serve in Iraq next year if enough qualified candidates do not apply for certain jobs, the State Department warned employees Tuesday.

A similar threat to call up diplomats last year drew fire among foreign service officers. Many of them objected to being forced to work in a war zone, even though Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Iraq was the department's priority.

A cable to employees, obtained by CNN, said the State Department would soon begin to identify candidates for jobs at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, and other provinces.

"We face a growing challenge of supply and demand in the 2009 staffing cycle," according to the cable.

The cable added that no other open State Department jobs would be filled until the Iraq jobs were filled. It also noted that more than 20 percent of the foreign service's 12,000 officers have already served in Iraq and Afghanistan, considered the two major hardship posts.

In 2007 the issue caused an uproar in the State Department, resulting in a contentious town hall-style meeting in October. One official called the order to serve in Iraq "a potential death sentence."

"I just have no respect for the whole process because you've demonstrated a lack of respect for your own colleagues," said foreign service officer Jack Croddy.

"Thank you for that comment. It's full of inaccuracies, but that's OK," Harry Thomas Jr., director general of the foreign service, shot back.

Others pointed out the risks of such assignments, considering the dangers of a war zone, lack of security and regular rocket attacks on U.S. personnel.

Rice, who did not attend the meeting, tried to calm things by underscoring the State Department's attempts to do "everything that we can to try and protect our diplomats."

However, she said, "This is one of the highest priority tasks of the United States, and we're going to meet our obligations."

In the end, the State Department found enough volunteers to fill the needed posts. The latest cable says officials hope the same thing will happen this year. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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