i had some idea that this was coming, but official confirmation came out in today's papers: "State Department to Order 250 to Iraq Posts." (Linked to the NYT so that everyone can read it for free; the Washington Post's version is much longer but might not be free for non-subscribers.) It's not really surprising, given the nature of the job. It's one year of separation from your family in a war zone. There are certainly perks for those going (virtual doubling of salary for the year, first choice of onward assignments, etc), but there are obvious consequences for the officers in Iraq (PTSD, for example) that State is still struggling to deal with.
The first question everyone asks is, "Are you going to be sent to Iraq?" The simplest answer is "not right now." First-tour officers don't go to Iraq unless they have significant experience that qualifies them - a previous career in the military, for example. We entry-level officers simply don't know the ropes well enough to be useful in such a unique situation. Moreover, our first tour or two are considered apprenticeships: much of what is done in Embassy Baghdad simply isn't applicable to other missions.
Of course, there's always a catch. Right now, the major shortage in Baghdad is at the middle levels - people who've been in for eight to fifteen years, roughly, largely due to a service-wide shortage of these officers from hiring freezes in the 1990s. There's a catch-22 here: the young officers are the ones most likely to be singles with no family reasons to prevent them from going to unaccompanied tours, but their skills just aren't up to par for the empty positions. However, mid-level officers are the ones most likely to have a family with younger children that they don't want to leave behind, but they are the people needed in Iraq.
So, where does that leave me? i will be in Saudi Arabia until September 2009, and there is no telling what will happen in Iraq between now and then. i'll be honest, though. If i have the skills needed in Iraq at that point and i am mentally stable, i likely will volunteer for a tour there. It's a while away, so i have time to evaluate the situation better.
i don't particularly have a problem with directed assignments. i took the pledge of worldwide service availability to heart when i joined, and i am prepared to deal with wherever i'm sent. i think everyone in my class knows that we could be sent to Iraq - we came in to this job with that knowledge. It's probably harder for the people who joined in the 1990s, who had no expectation of wars like this when they came in. i'd rather volunteer for a terrible post and know that i'm going willingly than be dragged there by force.