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State Dept.: Go To Iraq Or You're Fired

The State Department said Friday it will require some diplomats to serve in Iraq because of a lack of volunteers willing to work at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Beginning Monday, 200 to 300 diplomats will be notified that they have been identified as "prime candidates" to fill 40 to 50 vacancies that will open next year at the embassy, said Harry Thomas, director general of the Foreign Service.

Those notified that they have been selected for a one-year posting will have 10 days to respond. Only those with compelling reasons, such as a medical condition, will be excused from duty, Thomas said.

He said those being sent to Iraq will receive extra pay and vacation time. About 50 diplomats will be needed in Iraq by January over the current level of 200.

However, those refusing Iraq duty may face disciplinary action up to and including dismissal for failing to uphold their oath to serve the United States and the Constitution, Thomas said.

"If someone decides that they do not want to go, we will then consider our options," he told reporters in a conference call. "We have many options, including dismissal from the Foreign Service."

All U.S. diplomats were being informed of the step in a cable from Thomas. The decision to move to so-called directed assignments is rare but not unprecedented.

In 1969, an entire class of entry-level diplomats was sent to serve in Vietnam, and on a smaller scale, diplomats were forcibly assigned to work at embassies in West Africa in the 1970s and 1980s.

In Other Developments:

  • U.S. forces will turn over security to Iraqi authorities in the southern Shiite province of Karbala on Monday, the American commander for the area said, despite fighting between rival militia factions that has killed dozens. Karbala will become only the eighth of Iraq's 18 provinces to
    revert to Iraqi control, despite U.S. President George W. Bush's prediction in January that the Iraqi government would have responsibility for security in all of the provinces by November.
  • A bomb exploded Saturday in a predominantly Shiite area southeast of Baghdad, killing eight people and wounding 13 others, police and hospital officials said. The blast, which occurred at 7:30 a.m. in Jisr Diyala, targeted restaurants frequented by government employees and construction
    workers. Two police officers and two women were among the wounded, the
    officials said.
  • A U.S. soldier was killed and four were wounded in a roadside bombing in southern Baghdad, the military reported Friday. The unit was hit Thursday with an explosively formed penetrator, known as an EFP. The United States claims Iran supplies Shiite militants with the weapon, which fires an armor-piercing, fist-sized copper slug upon explosion. The victims' names were not released until family could be notified. At least 3,839 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

  • A team of specially trained investigators will hunker down in an Army office north of Detroit on Monday to begin poring over hundreds of Iraq war contracts in search of rigged awards. This team of 10 auditors, criminal investigators and acquisition experts are starting with a sampling of the roughly 6,000 contracts worth $2.8 billion issued by an Army office in Kuwait that service officials have identified as a hub of corruption. Based on what the team finds, the probe may expand and the number of Army military and civilian employees accused of accepting bribes and kickbacks could grow, U.S. officials said. Nearly two dozen have been charged so far.
  • An Iraqi prosecutor on Friday defended the death sentence ordered for a Saddam Hussein-era defense chief, saying Friday that the former general personally planned and supervised a military crackdown on minority Kurds that killed 180,000 people in the 1980s. Speaking in a television interview, Munqith al-Faroon rejected the argument put forward by Iraq's president and parliament speaker that Sultan Hashim al-Tai should be pardoned because he was only following orders under the threat of death from Saddam.