Rice Reaffirms Plan to Force Diplomats to Fill Iraq Posts

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 3, 2007

Calling Iraq "the most essential foreign policy and national security priority for our nation," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told U.S. diplomats yesterday that she will proceed with plans to order Foreign Service officers to Iraq if vacancies cannot be filled voluntarily.

Rice's decision has spawned angst in the State Department, where more than 1,500 personnel have served in Iraq. There are 11,500 Foreign Service employees, one of whom declared at a State Department town hall meeting this week that being sent to Iraq was a "potential death sentence." Three Foreign Service officers have been killed since the war started.

The State Department said volunteers have filled about 200 positions set to begin next summer, but another 48 remain unclaimed. About 200 people were notified this week that they were "prime candidates" for Iraq. About 15 people volunteered this week and are being vetted, State said, but others have suggested they may quit if they are ordered to Iraq.

"Regardless of how the jobs may be filled, they must be filled," Rice said in a cable sent to U.S. diplomats around the world. "It is our duty to do our part toward succeeding in the vital mission in Iraq."

Rice noted past changes she has made, such as allowing families to stay at a current overseas post if a spouse serves a year in Iraq. "[W]e will answer your questions and respond to your concerns," Rice said.

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