Hundreds of US diplomats have protested against a government move to force them to accept postings in war-torn Iraq.
Many positions are due to become vacant at the new Iraq embassy
About 300 angry diplomats attended a meeting at the state department, at which one labelled the decision a "potential death sentence".
If too few volunteer, some will be forced to go to Iraq - or risk dismissal, except those exempted for medical or personal hardship reasons.
Iraq postings have previously been filled on a voluntary basis.
The meeting was called to explain the "forced assignments" order made by state department human resources director Harry Thomas.
Last Friday, he notified about 250 "prime candidates" that they had been selected for one of 48 one-year postings at the embassy in Baghdad or in a Provincial Reconstruction Team elsewhere in the country.
They were given 10 days to reply.
Senior diplomat Jack Croddy, who once worked as a political adviser with Nato forces, highlighted safety fears of staff who would be forced to serve in a war zone.
"It's one thing if someone believes in what's going on over there and volunteers, but it's another thing to send someone over there on a forced assignment," Mr Croddy said.
"I'm sorry, but basically that's a potential death sentence and you know it. Who will raise our children if we are dead or seriously wounded?
"You know that at any other [country] in the world, the embassy would be closed at this point."
For months, US officials have been warning that a lack of volunteers could lead to this diplomatic call-up, says the BBC's James Coomarasamy in Washington.
Many positions are due to become vacant in 2008.
But unions say the constantly growing embassy in Iraq is straining human resources.
An attractive financial package is being offered as well as a generous leave allowance.
But the Baghdad embassy is considered a hardship posting due to security risks and because spouses and children must be left at home.
American diplomats have been sent on forced assignments before - some had to take postings in some African countries in the 1970s and 1980s, and in 1969 an entire class of new foreign service officers was sent to Vietnam.