Compelled Iraq duty angers U.S. envoys

November 01, 2007|From the Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Hundreds of U.S. diplomats Wednesday vented anger and frustration over the State Department's decision to force Foreign Service officers to take jobs in Iraq, with some calling it a "potential death sentence."

In a contentious hourlong meeting, they peppered officials with often hostile comments about the move announced last week that will require some diplomats -- under threat of dismissal -- to serve at the embassy in Baghdad and in reconstruction teams in outlying provinces.

Many expressed serious concern about the ethics of sending diplomats against their will to work in a war zone -- where the embassy staff is largely confined to Baghdad's protected Green Zone -- as the department reviews use of private security guards to protect its staff.

"Incoming is coming in every day; rockets are hitting the Green Zone," said Jack Croddy, a senior foreign service officer.

He and others confronted Foreign Service Director General Harry Thomas, who approved the move to "directed assignments" to deal with a shortage of volunteers.

"It's one thing if someone believes in what's going on over there and volunteers, but it's another thing to send someone over there on a forced assignment," Croddy said. "I'm sorry, but basically that's a potential death sentence and you know it. Who will raise our children if we are dead or seriously wounded?"

No U.S. diplomats have been killed in Iraq, but the security situation is precarious. Croddy's remarks were met with loud and sustained applause from the estimated 300 people at the meeting.

Thomas said the comments were "filled with inaccuracies."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was not present, but her top advisor on Iraq, David Satterfield, attended.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack acknowledged the session was "pretty emotional." He praised Thomas for holding the meeting, and he emphasized that all diplomats sign an oath to serve, obligating them to work anywhere.

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