By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ordered this week that U.S. diplomatic positions in Iraq must be filled before any other State Department openings in Washington or overseas are made available, raising the possibility that soon the agency will be forced to order its employees to serve in Iraq.
"It is my fervent hope that we will continue to see sufficient numbers of Foreign Service and Civil Service employees volunteering for Iraq service, but we must be prepared to meet our requirements in any eventuality," Rice said in a message to employees.
The move to fill Iraq jobs first, which Rice called "unprecedented" in the cable, represents a further tightening of the rules for filling jobs at the State Department because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last summer, Rice ordered that hardship posts -- including those in Iraq, Afghanistan and other hot spots -- should be filled before other jobs.
Rice's message was sent more than two weeks after Ryan C. Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, sent her a cable with an urgent plea for more and better staffers. "Simply put, we cannot do the nation's most important work if we do not have the Department's best people," Crocker said in a May 31 cable disclosed by The Washington Post this week.
Crocker, who arrived in Baghdad earlier this year, specifically asked for an increase in political and economic officers for his embassy as the United States presses the Iraqi government to meet a series of political benchmarks. The embassy previously had 15 political officers, and Crocker has won an additional 11. The nine-person economic staff will be increased to 21 and will add four contractors. Many of the slots will be transferred from work that is ending, such as reconstruction projects.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Tuesday that, in addition to those steps, Rice is changing the way assignments are being made in response to Crocker's concerns. The Associated Press reported yesterday on the text of Rice's cable, which was dated June 18.
"We must ensure that these top priority requirements are met before any other staffing decisions are made," Rice said in the cable, adding that the new rules will take effect immediately.
At least 20 percent of the U.S. Foreign Service has already served in Iraq, and State Department officials have long braced for the possibility of "directed assignments" as the war has dragged on and the number of people able to serve in such a dangerous post has dwindled.
Because of the dangers involved, diplomats headed to Iraq are required to leave their families behind. As a step to ease such burdens, the State Department is no longer requiring spouses and children to move back to the United States when a parent takes a one-year posting in Iraq from another overseas position, David Satterfield, the State Department's Iraq coordinator, said in an interview that will appear Sunday on C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" program.
"While these measures may seem far-reaching, I believe they are necessary and ultimately better for everyone concerned," Rice said. "A transparent, methodical process will allow employees to plan ahead and take control of their own professional futures while allowing the Department to meet our staffing requirements smoothly and effectively."