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State Department Offers New Perk to Lure U.S. Diplomats to Iraq

Aug. 29 (Bloomberg) -- The State Department is offering U.S. diplomats the chance to lock in a three-year tour in a coveted capital such as Rome or Paris if they will first sign up for a year in far-flung outposts in war-torn Iraq.

The new incentive, advertised in an internal cable last month, is the latest in a series of bonuses, extra vacation and career perks used to lure foreign-service officers to serve in the country. Even with those rewards, the demand for staff in Iraq is overtaxing resources, analysts say.

``Iraq is putting a strain on our foreign service, and on American foreign policy more generally,'' said Casimir Yost, director of the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University in Washington. ``This is a tough period in the State Department.''

The Bush administration is building its largest overseas embassy complex on 104 acres in Baghdad, and about 200 people -- one of its biggest diplomatic contingents -- now serve there, most of them confined within the protected ``Green Zone.''

While most tours are three years, Iraq is only one, and with the bonus, the salary can be almost double -- to as much as $212,100. While the diplomats bunk down in trailers with shared bathrooms, they can take three relaxation-and-recuperation breaks to as far away as Washington during that year.

``We want to do everything we can to make this as easy on them and their families as possible,'' said Janelle Hironimus, a spokeswoman for the department.

Regional Cities

Only those 75 diplomats who serve as part of provincial reconstruction teams in regional cities such as Mosul, Tikrit and Baquba are eligible for the guarantee of a subsequent posting. ``The positions are being filled,'' Hironimus said.

Moreover, according to the unclassified cable sent worldwide last month, that next post can get locked in even before applicants in other countries can apply for the jobs.

Also, while a diplomat is in Iraq, family members may remain at the previous post or return to Washington. The State Department also has opened more diplomatic posts to civil- service employees, not just those in the foreign service.

Still, even with these new incentives, as many as 17 percent of American envoys return from so-called hardship posts such as Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder because of the levels of violence and threat to diplomats there, according to a State Department study.

`Extreme Dangers'

Steve Kashkett, vice president of the American Foreign Service Association in Washington, said ``the special incentives are justified by the extreme dangers faced by our members in Iraq.'' Diplomats ``are coping with war-zone security conditions that would have shut down any other U.S. embassy,'' he said.

And, said Yost, in a change of course established last year by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, diplomats must serve in violence-torn nations such as Iraq or Afghanistan if they want to advance their careers.

The State Department is even considering forcing diplomats to go to Iraq, an approach that hasn't been pursued since the Vietnam War, according to a report in April by the Government Accountability Office.

``It's a stress on those individuals, and you have people there who may not have the skill set for the position,'' said Jess Ford, director of international affairs and trade at the GAO. ``It's a combination of stressing our foreign policy expertise and stressing those people involved.''

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Drajem in Washington at mdrajem@bloomberg.net

State Department Offers New Perk to Lure U.S. Diplomats to Iraq -  Source

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