The message from ex-chancellor Gerhard Schröder immediately prior to the United States invasion of Iraq was hard to misunderstand. Germany, he said on Aug. 5, 2002, “will not make itself available for any adventures under my leadership.” Indeed, his anti-war stance resonated so strongly with German voters that it even helped get him re-elected in September 2002.
In January 2003, he emphasized that Germany — then one of the rotating members of the United Nations Security Council — would also not vote in favor of a resolution to go to war with Iraq.
But according to new revelations about the activities of Germany’s intelligence service Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), the country was not nearly so removed from the US-led war efforts as Schröder liked to claim. German intelligence agents, according to reports in both the Süddeutsche Zeitung and in German public television, were active in Iraq during the entire war and even helped the United States choose bombing targets. BND spooks may even have delivered targeting assistance for the early April 2003 bombing in the wealthy Mansour district of Baghdad — a strike which was meant to vaporize Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein along with several top members of his regime. The attack left between 12 and 19 people dead — but not Saddam.
“Despite the troubles in the relationship between Berlin and Washington, the political decision was made to continue the close relationship of the intelligence services,” an unidentified source from the BND told the public television station ARD.
That close relationship apparently involved German intelligence agents remaining in Baghdad during the entire Iraq war at the same time Schröder, his Social Democratic Party, and his junior coalition partner the Greens — led by then-foreign minister Joschka Fischer — were officially maintaining strong opposition to the war in Iraq. Germany evacuated its own embassy on March 17, 2003 — just three days before the start of the invasion — but at least two BND employees remained in Baghdad, lodged in a safe house. The BND agents allegedly helped the Americans by identifying “non-targets” — such buildings as embassies, schools and hospitals that should not be bombed. Schröder’s chancellery allegedly knew all about the cooperation.
On Thursday, an intelligence official told the Reuters news agency that the practice of identifying “non-targets” is a lesson learned from the US bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during the Kosovo War in 1999.
But the Germans’ assistance may have gone even further. ARD quotes an American source, identified as a “former Pentagon employee,” as saying that the German help was “very important” for the American offensive. The source went on to say that the BND provided “direct assistance in choosing targets.”
The most dramatic example of such direct assistance may well have been the April 7, 2003 attempt on Saddam. According to ARD’s Pentagon source, US intelligence received a tip that morning of a column of black Mercedes limousines near a restaurant often frequented by Saddam and other government leaders. It was thought that Saddam might be among the passengers. But how to verify the report? According to the Pentagon source, US officials called up German intelligence and asked them to have their agents do a drive-by of the restaurant. The German agents in Baghdad confirmed the existence of a convoy of armored vehicles outside the restaurant. Not long afterwards, four satellite-guided bombs obliterated the site.
The Bundesnachrichtendienst denies helping the Americans with targeting. It confirms that two BND agents were in Baghdad during the war, but said its agents “provided neither of the warring parties with targets or coordinates for bombing. The BND collected, analyzed and communicated information to the German government within the framework of its legal obligations,” a BND spokesman said on Wednesday.
The revelations come as Chancellor Angela Merkel flies to the United States on Thursday for talks with US President George W. Bush. Germany, along with many European countries, has expressed concern over recent allegations of CIA flights carrying terror suspects to third countries for interrogation — part of a program known as extraordinary rendition. Alleged secret CIA prisons in eastern Europe have also raised hackles, and last weekend, Merkel said the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba ” in its present form cannot and must not exist in the long term.” She’s expected to mention the case of Murat Kurnaz, a Turkish citizen who was born and raised in Germany and is currently incarcerated at Guantanamo, in her talks with Bush.
Opposition politicians in Germany are demanding an investigation into the lastest reports of BND activities during the war. The broadly pro-American Free Democrats have said that if the story is true, “it would be a proper scandal that would urgently require a complete clarification.” The less Washington-friendly socialist Left Party has demanded a special investigation into the allegations.
Much attention, however, is focusing on the Green Party — Schröder’s coalition partners during the war in Iraq. Former foreign minister Fischer said on Thursday that he had no problem with an investigation. “I have nothing to hide,” he said. Other members of the Green Party, though, said that Fischer was outraged by the news and, although he knew about the BND agents who were in Baghdad during the war, he claims not to have known about any assistance offered by them to the Americans. Green Party leader Claudia Roth said “the parliament and the German public has the right to see the allegations cleared up with no ifs or buts.”
Similar voices are to be heard in Schröder’s party. SPD parliamentarians spoke on Thursday of the “dark side of foreign policy” and of “BND’s separate foreign policy.” One can’t escape the feeling, said one SPD politician, that Schröder’s Iraq policy seems “more and more dishonest.”