U.S. warns diplomats of “forced” Iraq service

By Xinhua,

Beijing : The U.S. State Department warned its diplomats they may be forced to serve in Iraq next year and said it will soon start identifying prime candidates for jobs at the Baghdad embassy and outlying provinces, according to a cable obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.

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A similar call-up threat last year caused a revolt among foreign service officers who objected to compulsory work in a war zone, although in the end the State Department found enough volunteers to fill the jobs.

Now, the State Department anticipates another staffing crisis.

“We face a growing challenge of supply and demand in the 2009 staffing cycle,” the cable said, noting that more than 20 percent of the nearly 12,000 foreign service officers have already worked in the two major hardship posts — Iraq and Afghanistan — and a growing number have done tours in both countries.

As a result, the unclassified April 8 cable said, “the prime candidate exercise will be repeated” next year, meaning the State Department will begin identifying U.S. diplomats qualified to serve in Iraq and who could be forced to work there if they don’t volunteer.

The prime candidate list will be composed of diplomats who have special abilities that are needed in Iraq, such as Arabic language skills, deep Mideast knowledge or training in specific areas of reconstruction.

“We must assign to Iraq those employees whose skills are most needed, and those employees should know that they personally are needed,” Foreign Service Director General Harry Thomas said in the cable sent to all diplomatic missions.

The cable describes how the department will fill upcoming vacancies at hardship posts like those Iraq and Afghanistan — although it doesn’t plan to force any Afghanistan assignments. Diplomats will “bid,” or apply, for positions in the war zones that will be advertised in May. After that, the department expects to begin identifying prime candidates for about 300 Iraq jobs that come open next summer, Thomas wrote.