Friday, January 13, 2006

German Spies Deny Guiding U.S. Bomb Raids In Iraq

January 12, 2006

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's foreign intelligence agency denied on Thursday reports its spies in Baghdad had helped U.S. warplanes select bombing targets during the invasion of Iraq, which the Berlin government had strongly opposed.

Opposition politicians seized on the report as evidence the then government of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder had secretly backed the U.S.-led war while making political capital from condemning it in public.

Some demanded an investigation of the security services' role, both in Iraq and in the wider U.S.-led war on terrorism.

``If the reports are confirmed, the previous government can no longer state that it didn't take part in the Iraq war,'' said Juergen Koppelin, a liberal Free Democrat member of parliament.

German agents in Baghdad at the start of the Iraq war ``gave us direct support. They gave us information for targeting,'' NDR television quoted a former U.S. military official as saying.

He said that on April 7, 2003 -- 18 days after the U.S. bombing began -- the Americans had received a report that a convoy of Mercedes cars, one of them possibly carrying Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, had been sighted in a Baghdad suburb.

The ex-Pentagon official said the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency asked the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany's foreign spy service, to send one of its Baghdad agents to the suburb of Mansur to check the tip.

After he confirmed the presence of the convoy, the report said, a U.S. plane dropped four bombs on the target area, killing at least 12 civilians, according to the report.

A BND spokesman confirmed the presence of two German intelligence agents in Iraq before and during the U.S.-led invasion. But he said the report, also published in the newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, was ``false and distorted.''

``Contrary to allegations ... we have to record for our part that no target data or bombing coordinates were made available to the parties conducting the war,'' the spokesman said.

The report threatened to embarrass Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who as chief of staff to Schroeder had oversight of the security services at the time.

Asked if the Schroeder government knew of any BND support for the U.S.-led war, Steinmeier told reporters simply: ``No.''

Schroeder was elected to a second term in 2002 on a platform of strong opposition to the looming war in Iraq, declaring that Germany would not take part in any military ''adventure'' there.

The new report surfaced on the day his successor Angela Merkel, was heading to Washington to meet President George W. Bush for the first time since taking office last November. Her conservatives were in opposition at the time of the war and Merkel now heads a coalition with Schroeder's Social Democrats.

A German security source, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged the BND had shared information with the United States during the bombing phase of the war, but only to identify ``non-targets'' such as embassies, schools and hospitals in order to spare them from being hit.

He said other countries' agents had done the same, mindful of the mistaken targeting of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during NATO's bombing of Serbia in 1999.

Opposition Greens parliamentary leader Renate Kuenast said German help in U.S. bombing raids would be a ``monstrous action.''

The report fueled pressure which has been building on the government for weeks to allow an inquiry into the role of Germany's security services in the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

The government confirmed for the first time last month that German security officials had questioned detainees at the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and had also interviewed a German-Syrian terrorist suspect in a Syrian prison in 2002.

The latter meeting took place at a time when the government had told the man's lawyer it had no idea of his whereabouts and had no access to him.

Steinmeier was also forced last month to defend the Schroeder government's handling of the case of Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen who was held by the United States for five months in an Afghan prison before being released in May 2004.

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