WASHINGTON – The State Department said Tuesday that enough diplomats have volunteered for duty at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq next year to avoid having to draft potentially unwilling candidates to serve there.
A cable sent to all foreign service officers says the roughly 300 jobs in Baghdad and outlying provinces, along with a smaller number in Kabul, that come open next summer have been filled by qualified volunteers.
"I want to applaud our foreign service and civil service colleagues who have once again come forward to answer the call in Iraq and Afghanistan," Foreign Service Director General Harry Thomas said in the cable.
Officials familiar with the staffing process said that all positions were taken but that assignments for a handful of diplomatic security agents in Iraq were still pending.
Last year, the prospect of forced Iraq tours in what would have been the largest diplomatic call-up since Vietnam sparked an uproar when some objected to compulsory service in a war zone, with one likening it to a "potential death sentence."
In the end, volunteers filled the 48 vacant posts that had prompted preparations for the possible draft, but the department warned again in April that it might have to repeat the process of identifying candidates for forced Iraq duty unless enough diplomats stepped forward to meet the need for 2009.
The process, known as "directed assignment," means ordering diplomats — who take an oath to be serve anywhere in the world — to work in certain locations under threat of dismissal unless they have a compelling reason, such as a health condition, that would prevent them from going.