Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Military Personnel To Fill State Dept Positions in Iraq

The Pentagon and State Department have worked out a deal to send a small number of military personnel and Defense Department civilians to Iraq for several months until Foreign Service officers and State Department contract workers with specialized skills can fill those jobs, senior officials said Monday.

The internal administration discussions over filling the posts had exposed tensions between the military and civilian agencies over how to share responsibilities in carrying out President Bush’s new strategy for stabilizing and rebuilding Iraq — in particular, how to fill hazardous positions in new provincial reconstruction teams.

The State Department had asked the Pentagon to come up with military personnel or civilians to fill about one-third of the 350 new State Department jobs in Iraq. While the numbers involved are relatively small, the debate raised larger issues of whether the government was properly organized to carry out a long-term occupation of a country like Iraq.

The State Department’s written request for military personnel to fill some of the positions temporarily, received in late January, was met with frustration by a number of senior Pentagon officials and military officers.

But last week, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates agreed to the State Department request. About 120 military personnel or Pentagon civilians will fill the jobs for up to four months, according to three senior officials who were briefed on the discussions.

The officials said the stopgap measure would give the State Department time to identify Foreign Service officers to serve in political and economic development jobs in Iraq and to use new Congressional financing to hire people with technical skills that are not routinely part of diplomatic missions overseas.

The officials said the jobs included industrial development specialists, public health advisers, engineers, veterinarians, agricultural experts and lawyers who specialize in creating or enhancing judicial institutions.

While those skills are not a standard part of the diplomatic corps, they are found among active duty military and reserve personnel. It is those people who will be asked to step in temporarily.


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