WASHINGTON - The State Department will not force diplomats to serve in Iraq because volunteers have filled all 48 vacant positions at the US Embassy in Baghdad and in outlying provinces, the Associated Press has learned.
The department will announce it no longer needs to move to "directed assignments" for Iraq once personnel panels give a formal OK to Foreign Service officers who signed up for the remaining three open jobs, US officials said yesterday. The three diplomats have won tentative approval, they said.
The announcement could be made as early as today, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision has not been announced.
But the policy of directed assignments could be implemented if the current crop of volunteers does not pan out. "We're reserving the option," said Sean McCormack, department spokesman. Officials also said the department may have to resort to such a measure in the future.
"We believe we are close to having all the jobs filled by volunteers. We are down to the low single digits, and that is very positive," McCormack said, but "that doesn't mean the policy has changed."
After volunteers cut the number of vacant posts to 11 by Tuesday, officials had indicated that a forced call-up might not be necessary. All were filled by yesterday with only the final screening process for the last three spots pending, they said.
The announcement will be a relief for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other members of the department's senior management. They had struggled to quell a revolt among diplomats who questioned the ethics of ordering unarmed civilians into a war zone under penalty of dismissal.
The officials, however, said Rice had intended to go ahead with directed assignments if not enough volunteers had come forward.
The prospect of the largest diplomatic call-up since Vietnam had caused an uproar among the 11,500-member Foreign Service. At a contentious town hall meeting this month, the strength of their opposition came into public view; some diplomats protested the forced assignments, citing safety and security concerns.
More than 1,500 diplomats have volunteered to work in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003.