State Department to Order Diplomats to Iraq

Unable to find enough volunteers for hazardous duty, the State Department will start forcing Foreign Service Officers to take assignments in Iraq.

The State Department will order as many as 50 U.S. diplomats to take posts in Iraq next year because of expected shortfalls in filling openings there, the first such large-scale forced assignment since the Vietnam War.

On Monday, 200 to 300 employees will be notified of their selection as “prime candidates” for 50 open positions in Iraq, said Harry K. Thomas, director general of the Foreign Service. Some are expected to respond by volunteering, he said. However, if an insufficient number volunteers by Nov. 12, a department panel will determine which ones will be ordered to report to the Baghdad embassy next summer.

“If people say they want to go to Iraq, we will take them,” Thomas said in an interview. But “we have to move now, because we can’t hold up the process.” Those on the list were selected by factors including grade, specialty and language skill, as well as “people who have not had a recent hardship tour,” he said.

The Department has every right to do this; FSOs operate under many of the same strictures as commissioned military officers. The move will likely spark resignations and cause talented people to think again about joining the diplomatic corps. It seems to me that we’d be far better off offering stronger incentives for hazardous duty: Higher pay, enhanced chances for career advancement, priority assignment choices, and the like.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. just me says:

    Higher pay, enhanced chances for career advancement, priority assignment choices, and the like.

    I am surprised they haven’t already tried some of these things-some of them wouldn’t be that difficult, others might require the department go through more channels before implementing them, but either way you would think they would have already been tried.

    I don’t have problems though with telling some people they have to go, if the slots aren’t filled.

  2. DC Loser says:

    They are already getting a 70% pay differential for Iraq and another 10% hardship incentive. That’s a big chunk of change. DoD is also offering the 70% difference for civilians, and some are getting almost $10k as a bonus on top.

  3. John Burgess says:

    James, all those measures you cite are already in place. They’re insufficient, however.

    This is a matter of enforcing assignment discipline. To be an FSO, one has to agree to ‘worldwide availability’ (with some exceptions such as medical limitations). That’s not always been enforced in the past.

  4. RM says:

    Its kinda like the Senior Executive Service (SES). SES are supposed to be assignable where needed. I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard of an SES being transferred to someplace they really didn’t want to go.

  5. DC Loser says:

    There are a few SES billets in Iraq and the theater like Qatar. Most likely people (GS-15s) are promoted into those positions and then come back stateside for their cushy regular jobs once the tour is over.

  6. yetanotherjohn says:

    Bottom line is to make not having done a tour in Iraq mean you are only considered for any promotion if no one else who has been ther applies.

  7. SFC SKI says:

    I say good on the State Dept. for doing this; its employees mission is to support the US government wherever the mission may be. IF it forces out some desk jockeys, all to the better.

    I am retiring from 20 years of military service, I speak Arabic, I wonder if State needs my skills.

  8. davod says:

    I was just reading a post by Michael Yon concerning the high regard with which some of the LTCOLs are held by tribal chiefs.

    Do we really want to send in pissed off State Department officers, some of whom may have a Colonialist’ attitude to the natives.

    Surely, it might be better to keep using the DOD civil affairs teams and friendly Iraqis to do the work.

  9. I’ve quoted you and linked to you here.