WASHINGTON – The State Department is dropping plans to force diplomats to serve in Iraq because volunteers have filled all 48 vacant positions at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and in outlying provinces, The Associated Press has learned.
The department will announce it no longer needs to move to "directed assignments" for Iraq once personnel panels give a formal OK to foreign service officers who signed up for the remaining three open jobs, U.S. officials said Thursday. Those three diplomats have won tentative approval, they said.
The announcement could come as early as Friday, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision has not been announced.
Officials had indicated this week that a forced call-up might not be necessary after volunteers cut the number of vacant posts to 11 by Tuesday. All were filled by Thursday with only the final screening process for the last three spots pending, they said.
The announcement will be major relief for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the department's senior management. They had struggled to quell a revolt among diplomats who questioned the ethics of ordering unarmed civilians into a war zone under penalty of dismissal.
But the officials said Rice had intended to go ahead with directed assignments if not enough volunteers had come forward. They also said the department may have to resort to such a measure in the future.
The prospect of the largest diplomatic call-up since Vietnam had caused an uproar among the 11,500-member Foreign Service. At a contentious town hall meeting this month, the strength of their opposition came into public view as some diplomats protested the forced assignments, citing safety and security concerns.
The complaints were a deep embarrassment to the department and led Rice and her deputy, John Negroponte, to remind diplomats of their duty to serve their government anywhere they are needed. Both sent worldwide cables urging foreign service officers to volunteer, but stressed that they would rely directed assignments if needed.
More than 1,500 diplomats have volunteered to work in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. But the resistance to forced assignments generated bitter criticism of the diplomatic corps; some Internet commentators accused the foreign service of cowardice and treason.