International Herald Tribune / Reuters – 2008-09-20 22:03:44
BERLIN (September 18, 2008) — Two German spies in Baghdad actively supported the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq despite Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s denials, opposition parties said on Thursday.
“The records unfortunately contradict completely the government’s position that it was not involved,” Norman Paech from the Left party said outside a closed-door hearing where the two were questioned by a parliamentary investigative committee.
The issue could embarrass Steinmeier, the Social Democrats’ candidate for chancellor in 2009 elections, who as a top aide to former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder oversaw intelligence operations during the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
The case caused uproar when it leaked out in early 2006 because the German government and public opinion strongly opposed the U.S. invasion. Schroeder tapped this anti-war sentiment to win a close election in 2002.
Committee members from the Left, Greens and Free Democrats opposition parties told reporters that the spies had provided information almost exclusively about military targets during the outbreak of war.
Schroeder’s SPD coalition with the Greens had insisted the spies were there to help prevent attacks on civilians.
Both agents in Baghdad reported to Germany’s BND intelligence agency, which passed on at least part of their information to the U.S. military. The parliamentary committee seeks to determine whether this actively helped the war effort.
The meeting on Thursday shed little light on this, Paech said, quoting one agent as saying: “I can’t say anything about this because I don’t know. I reported to Pullach,” the location of the BND headquarters.
Hans-Christian Stroebele from the Greens party said the U.S. army got German military information from Baghdad in at least eight cases but it was unclear whether Steinmeier knew this.
Max Stadler from the Free Democrats said it was important not to leap to conclusions but said the spies had fed information on the effectiveness of bombing raids.
In one case, U.S. bombers struck an Iraqi officers club twice in four days after getting feedback from the agents.
The Social Democrats, now coalition partners with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives, rejected accusations that the spies’ work had led directly to military action.
“No evidence for this has been presented so far,” an SPD delegate, Michael Hartmann, said.
Steinmeier, who became foreign minister in 2005, said in a newspaper interview that the public would not believe that the presence of two BND spies in Iraq was enough “to make Germany a warring party after the fact.”
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