January 20, 2006

German government says Iraq probe “anti-American”

By Mark Trevelyan, Security Correspondent

BERLIN (Reuters) - The German government, facing
allegations its spies in Iraq secretly abetted the U.S.
invasion that Berlin publicly opposed, resisted calls on Friday
for a parliamentary inquiry it said would fan anti-Americanism.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Baghdad-based
agents of the BND intelligence service had stuck to clear
instructions not to pass on operational military information to
the Americans at the start of the U.S. invasion in 2003.

The role of the two agents has become a hot political topic
since media reports this month alleged they gathered
information for Washington on bombing targets in Baghdad and
acted as scouts for an air raid intended to kill then-president
Saddam Hussein.

Steinmeier said the inquiry opposition parties want would
be a time-consuming and distracting attempt to discredit the
former government of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, which
angered Washington at the time with its vocal opposition to the

"What I fear is that, for a year or even longer, we would
help to make anti-Americanism and rejection of NATO acceptable
in this country again. We should not allow that," he told
parliament in a special debate on the affair.

Steinmeier has come under strong pressure because, as chief
of staff under Schroeder, he was responsible for overseeing
intelligence and security services at the time.


In a positive sign for the government, the three opposition
parties pressing for an inquiry have yet to agree on its terms,
and spent much of Friday's debate arguing among themselves.

The Greens, whose most prominent leader Joschka Fischer was
foreign minister in Schroeder's coalition government, want to
focus the investigation on whether members of the security
services exceeded their powers.

Fischer himself opposes the idea of a parliamentary

The liberal FDP has raised wider questions about the policy
of the government and whether it knowingly gave Washington
secret intelligence help while publicly opposing the war to win

The opposition has also called for further investigation
into the case of Khaled el-Masri, a German who was secretly
flown by the United States to Afghanistan and jailed there for
nearly five months in 2004 while being questioned as a
terrorist suspect. He was later freed for lack of evidence.

"Imagine the German secret service had kidnapped a citizen
in America, mistreated him and taken him to a foreign country
for five months. And then a member of parliament or minister
came and said: 'We don't want to talk about that in public, it
could annoy the Europeans,"' FDP leader Guido Westerwelle said
in response to Steinmeier's comments.

"He'd be sent home in shame and disgrace."

Party leaders will meet on Monday to discuss their next
move toward a possible inquiry into the Iraq and Masri affairs.