updated 10/26/2007 7:29:32 PM ET 2007-10-26T23:29:32

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."

Not unprecedented
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.

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