- The Washington Times - Friday, September 16, 2005

BERLIN — Ahead of tomorrow’s election, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s Social Democratic Party has put up campaign posters featuring images of dead American soldiers in flag-draped coffins, reviving the anti-Iraq war message that helped the party stay in power three years ago.

The posters target Mr. Schroeder’s conservative challenger, Christian Democratic Union (CDU) leader Angela Merkel, who is widely expected to become Germany’s first female chancellor.

“She would have sent [German] soldiers,” the campaign posters read.

CDU officials reacted angrily yesterday to the tactic, which is being used by Rolf Schwanitz, a state secretary in Mr. Schroeder’s administration who is running for parliament.

“It’s totally tasteless,” said CDU Secretary-General Volker Kauder. “There are limits even in an election campaign. You don’t use the dead to win votes.”

The U.S. Embassy in Berlin declined comment.

Just weeks before a similar election in September 2002, Mr. Schroeder made opposition to the U.S. campaign in Iraq a centerpiece of a previously lackluster re-election campaign.

As a result, his coalition of Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Green party managed to erase a deficit of up to ten percentage points in polls and narrowly retain their parliamentary majority.

Then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said Mr. Schroeder’s decision to make Iraq a campaign issue had “poisoned” the U.S.-German relationship.

A Western diplomat in Berlin said yesterday that the new posters, which show five coffins wrapped in American flags being loaded on a military aircraft, were “absolutely tasteless and outrageous.”

The conservative tabloid Bild, which first reported on the posters, called them “perverse election campaigning.”

Unlike three years ago, foreign policy has not been a major issue in this year’s campaign, although Turkey’s potential membership in the European Union has been discussed prominently in the last few days because of Germany’s large Turkish minority.

At a rally in the eastern city of Potsdam this week, Mr. Schroeder sounded a familiar note.

“As long as we are in office, German foreign policy will be made in Berlin and not anywhere else,” he said in an apparent reference to Washington, adding that Mrs. Merkel would have crumbled under “the kind of pressure” he faced over Iraq.

Ironically, Mr. Schroeder’s SPD supports the U.S. push for Turkey’s EU membership while the CDU opposes it.

Mr. Schroeder and Mrs. Merkel spoke at their final rallies in Berlin last night, although officials from both parties said they will continue campaigning through the weekend.

The CDU has focused on Germany’s troubled economy and the high unemployment rate, pointing to the chancellor’s mistakes during his seven years in office.

Mrs. Merkel began the campaign with a solid lead, but the gap has narrowed in the past couple of weeks.

A Forsa agency poll released yesterday showed her preferred coalition with the Free Democrats would get 48 percent to 51 percent of the vote compared with 38 percent to 41 percent for the ruling SPD-Green alliance. About 25 percent are still undecided.

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