- The Washington Times - Monday, March 6, 2006

BERLIN — German opposition parties have joined forces to require a parliamentary inquiry into whether German spies helped the U.S. military in the 2003 Iraq war, in a move that could hurt Berlin’s efforts to mend fences with the United States.

The liberal Free Democrats voted among themselves yesterday to demand the investigation, providing enough votes in the Bundestag to compel a probe into reports that German agents handed over sensitive documents detailing Saddam Hussein’s defense strategy to the Americans.

The claim, first reported in the New York Times last week, exposed the former government of Gerhard Schroeder to accusations that it publicly opposed the war to gain popularity while privately helping the Americans to wage it.

Officials have warned that a probe, in which current and former officials would have to testify under oath, will put the spotlight on the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) foreign-intelligence service in coming months and thereby hamper its activities.

The inquiry also could hurt Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, even though she only took over last November, because her Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was chief of staff to Mr. Schroeder at the time of the war.

Lengthy debate about the Iraq war and Germany’s role in it could also put further strain on U.S.-German relations at a time when Mrs. Merkel is trying hard to repair the damage done by Mr. Schroeder’s opposition to the war.

Yesterday’s move by the FDP ends weeks of uncertainty about whether the Bundestag, or lower house of the German parliament, will launch an inquiry.

The other two opposition parties, the Left Wing Party and the Greens, had already called for a probe. The FDP’s support gives the combined opposition sufficient votes to force an investigation.

The question now is what terms of reference the inquiry will be given. The FDP and Left Wing party want it to include the previous government’s entire policy during the Iraq war. That would put the inquiry on course to look at some sensitive German-U.S. security issues.

These include the purported abduction of a German national to Afghanistan by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, as well as revelations that German security officials accepted a U.S. invitation to question two inmates at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp for terrorism suspects in Cuba.

The Greens, who were a junior coalition partner in Mr. Schroeder’s government, want a narrower investigation focusing on the activities of the BND.

The German press has speculated that the various leaks to U.S. newspapers in recent months about German cooperation with U.S. agencies may have been deliberately planted by U.S. authorities to get back at Germany for not supporting the Iraq war and to tarnish Mr. Schroeder’s image.

FDP domestic-policy specialist Max Stadler said: “We don’t want an investigating committee against the BND; instead, we want a debate about the political responsibility for all that happened and what conclusions to draw from it.”

The German government has admitted that its spies passed on information about locations of Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guards and of an Iraqi secret-service base to the U.S. government.

But Mr. Steinmeier reiterated his denial yesterday of the New York Times claim that the BND handed the Americans a sketch of Iraqi defense installations around Baghdad in 2003.

Mr. Steinmeier told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that the BND had found no trace of the sketch despite making an intense search. “So I can and must assume that it wasn’t passed on by the BND,” he told the paper.

Germany has so far confirmed that two BND agents were in Baghdad at the start of the U.S. invasion in March 2003 and has acknowledged that they provided some descriptions of the police and military presence in Baghdad.

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