US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has lowered the boom on her department's diplomats who haven't been too keen on applying for openings at the embassy in Baghdad. At the moment the vacancy rate is just 1% but a lot of the people holding down those jobs are coming up for rotation and there's been a real drop in interest from the replacement pool.
Yesterday Rice sent a cable to all US embassies and missions which read, in part: "We must ensure that these top priority requirements are met before any other staffing decisions are made. To that end, we have decided to take the unprecedented step of creating a special country-specific assignment cycle for Iraq, commencing with the release of this message.''
In US diplomatic-speak that means Rice could hold up appointments to other posts and force, or "direct,'' some diplomats to accept positions at what is the largest U.S. embassy in the world.
A senior State Department official allowed that Iraq is an extremely dangerous hardship post with near daily insurgent mortar attacks on the fortified Green Zone where the embassy is located but accused the American Foreign Service Association (the diplomats' union) and some in the State Department of attempting to hamper policy by advising Baghdad candidates not to go and warning of potential career damage.
The US embassy in Baghdad occupies about the same amount of land as the Vatican and comprises 27-buildings, making it by far the biggest US embassy in the world.