Sunday, October 28, 2007

What a bunch of .................. well, I guess everyone wants to be posted to Paris

WASHINGTON, Oct 27: The US administration has asked its diplomats to serve in Iraq or face disciplinary action, including dismissal from service.

In a cable sent to the US diplomatic corps on Friday, Harry Thomas, director-general of the US Foreign Service, informed American diplomats that if chosen to serve in Iraq, they would not have the option to say no. This Monday, about 250 diplomats will receive notices that they had been chosen as �prime candidates� to fill 40 to 50 vacancies that would open next year at the embassy.

Those finally selected for a one-year posting will start getting posting orders from Nov 12. They will have 10 days to accept or reject the position. Some will be ordered to go to Iraq and face dismissal if they refuse.

�We have all taken oaths to serve our country. We have all signed (up for) worldwide availability,� said Mr Thomas while talking to reporters in Washington.

�If someone decides ... they do not want to go, we will then consider appropriate action,� he said. �We have many options, including dismissal from the Foreign Service.�

The US administration is forced to take this step because not enough officers are willing to work at the US Embassy in Baghdad or with the State Department�s provincial reconstruction teams.

This is the first such large-scale call-up since the Vietnam war.

Only those with compelling reasons, such as medical problems, will be exempted.

Iraq is the most dangerous posting for US diplomats. The Green Zone, which also houses the US Embassy, faces almost daily attacks, often deadly. The scandal involving a private firm that protects State Department officials has further weakened security arrangements.

Guards of the Blackwater USA are accused of killing 17 Iraqi civilians, which has increased public hostility against American nationals in Iraq and also brought new restrictions on the guards.

Incentives, such as generous financial benefits and promotions, encouraged some diplomats to come forward. So far about 1,200 out of a total of 11,500 Foreign Service officers have served in Iraq since 2003. But many ignored the incentives.

Provincial Reconstruction Teams, set up to oversee development works in the far-flung areas, are particularly in trouble. US military officials who run the teams complain that other government agencies such as the departments of State, Commerce and Agriculture, are not moving quickly or forcefully enough to take the positions marked for them.

Diplomats who are forced into service in Iraq will receive the same extra hardship pay, vacation time and choice of future assignments as those who have volunteered since early this year when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ordered Baghdad positions to be filled before all others around the world.

Currently about 200 Foreign Service officers work in Iraq, enough to meet the current staffing requirements, but about 50 more will be needed by the summer of 2008.

Forced postings are rare but not unheard of in the US State Department. In 1969, an entire class of entry-level diplomats was sent to Vietnam, and on a smaller scale, diplomats were required to work at various embassies in West Africa in the 1970s and 1980s.

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