The Foreign Service Journal, March 2006

Service have volunteered to serve in Iraq since 2003, despite the dangers of serving in war-zone conditions. Staffing Iraq has become a central issue for the Foreign Service and promises to continue to be signifi- cant for the foreseeable future. The impact is being felt not only in Baghdad, but in Washington and throughout the world. The so-called “Iraq Tax” is pulling resources for the U.S. mission there — both in personnel and in funding — from other offices and posts around the world. Few would deny that the demands of staffing and supporting our Iraq mission (with little additional Congressional funding for human resources) have put a strain on the Foreign Service. In an effort to obtain the clearest possible picture of the conditions of daily life and work in Iraq — and how Iraq service and staffing are affecting the broader Foreign Service — the Foreign Service Journal request- ed input from the field by way of an AFSANET e-mail message to Foreign Service members. We asked those who have served or are serving in Iraq to comment on their experiences and asked all respondents, including those who have not served there, to comment on what they see as the impact of Iraq staffing on the Service. Despite the fact that hundreds of Foreign Service members have served there since the 2003 invasion (note: not all of those who volunteer are selected to go), the topic of Iraq service is surrounded by rumors, out-of- date stories from the era of the Coalition Provisional Authority and even misinformation. The goal of sending out a request for input was not to conduct a scientific sur- vey, but to collect enough input to provide a window into the day-to-day reality of Iraq service, a set of impressions that can help foster dialogue and inform discussions of the Foreign Service role in this front-line country. Talking Points It is time for a closer look at what is happening to the Foreign Service because of the Iraq mission. Hopefully, the input we received from the field can serve to open the doors for discussion on how the Foreign Service can meet the tremendous challenges ahead. Responses to the survey illustrate that serving in Iraq comes with serious challenges, including how to play a relevant diplomatic role while the U.S. military is still fighting a war there, and how to cope with an extremely stressful and dangerous 24/7-type work environment. Staffing Iraq with the right number of qualified Foreign Service members is thus of paramount importance. Many respondents question the staffing levels for Iraq posts given the security situation. Those who have served in Iraq raise serious questions about the effect on the mis- sion of the hundreds of non-career appointees serving there. In addition, finding ways to better integrate the civilian diplomatic and military “dual command structure” is a concern. Employees serving in Baghdad are particu- larly concerned about the security of their housing. The picture that emerges from this survey is one of courageous, patriotic and often selfless service by those Foreign Service members who have volunteered to go to Iraq. Many of those who have served there want their colleagues to “step up” and do the same. At the same time, many who have not served there feel their own con- tributions elsewhere – including in other hardship and danger posts — no longer count, and some resent a per- ceived attitude from senior management that only Iraq service matters today. F O C U S 18 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / M A R C H 2 0 0 6 Shawn Dorman, a former Foreign Service officer, is associate editor of the Foreign Service Journal. The war in Iraq is having a profound effect on the Foreign Service. Our people are being called upon to serve — and to risk their lives — under extraordinary conditions at the embassy in Baghdad and at other locations throughout the country. Many hundreds have volunteered. The American Foreign Service Association believes it is vital to support our members serving in Iraq, and we think that the difficult issues surrounding the conditions of Iraq service require special attention. We need a clear picture of those conditions if we are to credibly address the concerns of our members. For this reason, AFSA supported the decision by the editors of the Foreign Service Journal to undertake the survey described in this article. The strong and candid responses to this survey, both from current and recent veterans of Iraq postings and from members who have not (yet) served there, tell an important story. We hope the results of this survey will help inform the foreign affairs community and will guide AFSA’s efforts on behalf of Foreign Service members in Iraq. J. Anthony Holmes, AFSA President