Going to Iraq if no one else wants to?
Responding to a dearth of foreign service workers employed in Iraq, the State Department warned Tuesday that diplomats would be forced to serve in the state if volunteers didn’t fill the staffing gap. Twenty percent of the United States’ 12,000 foreign service workers have served tours in Iraq or Afghanistan; reflecting the lack of other voluntary deployments, a growing number have served in both countries.
Last year a similar effort by the State Department drew vocal and widespread opposition from employees. During an October 2007 meeting intended to explain the department’s “directed assignment” policy, one diplomat called forced work “a death sentence” to loud applause from co-workers. Last year’s potential call-up was canceled when enough employees volunteered to serve; foreign service worker unions believe the same will happen this time around. Noting that the department has maintained necessary staffing levels since 2003, John Naland, president of the American Foreign Service Association, says “it’s quite possible to staff the Baghdad embassy with volunteers” so long as department demand doesn’t drastically increase.
Despite the recent construction of a heavily fortified embassy building in Baghdad, some foreign service workers have privately expressed angst over volunteering to serve in Iraq . Two diplomats and one political officer have been killed in Iraq since the war began in March 2003.