- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 31, 2002

BERLIN Germany hardened its opposition to a U.S. strike on Iraq, saying it would pull a crucial nuclear, chemical and biological investigation unit out of Kuwait if America attacked.

"If the danger arises that our soldiers could become involved in a military conflict against Iraq, the parliamentary resolution [enabling the unit to be sent to Kuwait] would no longer cover it," German Defense Minister Peter Struck said.

The threat underlined Germany's emerging role as the leader of anti-U.S. sentiment in Europe.

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France has made more careful criticisms of Washington's accelerating campaign and the conservative leaders of Italy and Spain have been largely silent.

The German election is three weeks away and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has been using blunt language to indicate Germany's opposition to an invasion of Iraq, forcing Edmund Stoiber, his conservative opponent, to adopt a similar stance.

Mr. Stoiber said yesterday he also believed the German unit should be withdrawn in the case of a lone U.S. attack.

Polls show fierce public opposition to an attack without backing of the United Nations.

Relations between Germany and the United States regarding Iraq have deteriorated markedly since March, when Mr. Schroeder said Germany's weapons-detection tanks and crews in Kuwait were a vital part of the war against terrorism.

"There are Americans stationed in Kuwait who are fundamental to operation Enduring Freedom. The tanks protect the base there. That is our duty within this partnership," he said, referring to the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan.

Now Mr. Schroeder says he no longer believes Germany would be consulted properly if the Bush administration decides to strike Iraq.

"Serious consultations must not only concern the how and when, but also the if," he told a Munich newspaper yesterday.

"In view of the state of discussions in America, the indication from the U.S. government that we would be consulted later is not enough," he said.

Mr. Struck, the defense minister, said an American attack on Iraq without a U.N. mandate would be "difficult to justify according to international law."

Iraq, meanwhile, warned yesterday that the United States would not bring down Saddam Hussein the same way it toppled Afghanistan's Taliban.

"We don't want to compare the two; Iraq is not Afghanistan," Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan told reporters in Beirut. "I believe that the U.S. administration is convinced of that."

Disagreement with the United States over Iraq weighed heavily on an informal meeting in Denmark of European Union foreign ministers who are expected to reaffirm their support for U.N.-led efforts to persuade Saddam to readmit arms inspectors.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw played down differences within the EU over Iraq, saying: "There is widespread agreement across Europe and indeed the world about Iraq and the threat it poses.

"If Saddam Hussein has nothing to hide, then he has nothing to fear from the reintroduction of the arms inspectors. And that is what we want to see," Mr. Straw said. "But of course we do not rule out the possibility of military action in appropriate circumstances."

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