Forced Iraq Duty Rankles Foreign Service At a town-hall meeting Wednesday in Washington, several hundred Foreign Service officers said they're angry at a decision that would force diplomats to serve in Iraq.
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Forced Iraq Duty Rankles Foreign Service

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Forced Iraq Duty Rankles Foreign Service

Forced Iraq Duty Rankles Foreign Service

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Cohen.


I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, a shocking twist in a New York mob trial.

COHEN: But first, there is good news out of Iraq today. Official casualty numbers show that far fewer Iraqis and Americans were killed there in October. Casualties are now at their lowest point since early 2006.

CHADWICK: Still, that doesn't make Iraq a popular destination for U.S. diplomats. At a State Department meeting in Washington yesterday, several hundred of them were publicly very angry about so-called directed assignments that might force them to work in Iraq.

COHEN: I spoke earlier with Karen DeYoung. She's the senior diplomatic correspondent for the Washington Post and she's heard audio tape of yesterday's meeting. I asked her what the diplomats had been told about these potential assignments in Iraq.

Ms. KAREN DEYOUNG (Washington Post): Well, there are two different kinds of assignments. One is to the embassy in Baghdad, which is inside the Green Zone. The other is to the PRTs - provincial reconstruction teams that are scattered around the country. And so they were asked specifically, I think, for specific jobs in either of those two places.

The embassy needs, because of turnover and growth in the embassy, to send 250 new people there by next summer. It has filled all but, I believe, 48 of those slots, and even though there's still sometime to go, they're getting nervous about it. And so they selected about 200 people who they thought were qualified for the jobs and sent out letters to them and said, look, we need 48 more people. If we don't get enough volunteers by November 12th, we're going to start doing these directed assignments. We're going to tell you that that's where you're going to go to fill these slots.

COHEN: Could you describe the scene at the meetings held this week? How did these diplomats respond to these directed assignments from the State Department?

Ms. DEYOUNG: It started with Harry Thomas, the director general of the foreign service explaining what was going on, giving more details about the information that was e-mailed to them Friday night. People were sort of quiet at first. The first person to speak in response was the president of their union, the American Foreign Service Officers Association. And he said, look, you know, we don't have the training to do this. We haven't had directed assignments since Vietnam. Actually, 1969 was the last time they did this. And people who were in our union, our members tell us that they're not particularly happy about what's happening at the State Department. They don't feel like the leadership is looking out for us. Other people then were - seemed to be a little bit more encouraged to talk.

One woman talked about how she had come back from Iraq with medical problems and didn't receive treatment. One very angry foreign service veteran got up and said the Green Zone is being shelled every day. This is the potential death sentence. In any other country in the world we would have already closed the embassy there a long time ago. You know, how can they even do diplomacy there?

COHEN: Isn't it part of a diplomat's job to go wherever they're assigned to, regardless of what they think of their assignment?

Ms. DEYOUNG: Yes. And I think that, again, I want to emphasize, no one has actually refused to go, and many more than a thousand people have actually volunteered to go since 2003. And everybody who has gone there so far has been a volunteer, so I think that the - obviously, a lot of people at State are concerned that there'll be looked at as wimps who don't want to do their duty, and they would say, at least, that that's not the case. They are mad about how this was done. They are concerned about what's going on in Iraq and the ability, as I said, to practice diplomacy there.

COHEN: What's the State Department's response been to what the diplomats have been saying?

Ms. DEYOUNG: This meeting was part of their response, and they've kind of emphasized, look, nobody's been ordered to go yet. You know, if you guys step up to the plate, we won't have to send anyone, while being very clear that they do have the authority, that they are going to proceed with this mission, and that Ambassador Crocker in Baghdad has specifically asked for better quality people. He said, look, you know if we're - if we're in a war, we need the best we have to offer and that's what I want.

COHEN: Karen DeYoung, senior diplomatic correspondent for the Washington Post, thank you so much.

Ms. DEYOUNG: You're welcome.

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