- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 18, 2004

A message from John D. Negroponte, the ambassador to Iraq, to U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide last week, in which he linked serving in Iraq with faster promotions, has angered diplomats at other hardship posts, their union said yesterday.

The Nov. 8 cable, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, said 50 State Department employees “who served or are serving in Iraq” in the past year were promoted last month.

Mr. Negroponte cited Secretary of State Colin L. Powell’s “expectations” that the promotion panels would “give strong consideration” to posts such as Iraq.

In a cable earlier this year, Mr. Powell wrote: “I’m fully confident that service at our posts in Iraq will be recognized in both the promotion and assignments process.”

The diplomats’ union, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), criticized the secretary’s statement and called the ambassador’s message “unfortunate.”

“These cables are advertising, overselling Iraq service and making promises that cannot be kept, in the hope members will be enticed into bidding on positions in Iraq because of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,” AFSA Vice President Louise Crane told the union’s members.

The cable “demeans the service and sacrifice of our members in places like Haiti,” said Ms. Crane, adding that AFSA had heard “cries of protest” from some of its members in support of those serving in Africa.

Many State Department employees, including AFSA members, said yesterday that they did not see a problem with Mr. Negroponte’s cable.

They said everybody knew from the beginning that service in Iraq, as well as Afghanistan, would be rewarded, materially and otherwise. That factored heavily in people’s decisions to put their lives on the line, the employees added.

Almost 1,400 Foreign Service members were promoted this year, the State Department said. Although 50 is an unusually high number of promotions at one post, the total number of people who have served in Iraq in the past year — several hundred — is many times greater than that at other posts.

“Tell me one other embassy on this planet whose employees come under fire every single day,” one official said. “This is the most challenging place in the Foreign Service for anyone to serve.”

Despite Mr. Powell’s cable, no one has been forcing supervisors to hire people who have served in Iraq over candidates with better qualifications, the official said.

“I had a couple of people with Iraq experience apply for jobs in my office, but I chose someone else,” he said.

Diplomats and other embassy employees receive compensation for serving at any of the 154 “severe hardship” posts — most of them in Africa — but that package in Iraq is more generous.

The official also noted that Iraq and Afghanistan are clear priorities for the Bush administration, and the work there is more visible than that at other posts.

“People there are working on the single highest priority of the U.S. government, and it would be foolish to think that those who performed well in that kind of environment shouldn’t be promoted,” he said.

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