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Debate Flares over German Role in Iraq

Germany continues to rule out taking a peacekeeping role in Iraq for the moment, but comments by Defense Minister Peter Struck have sparked a debate over a possible German participation under NATO and UN auspices.

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German troops have played an important role in Afghanistan and the Balkans.

Germany’s staunch opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq caused the worst break between long-time allies Washington and Berlin in decades. After months of giving the cold shoulder, U.S. President George Bush’s icy relations with German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder have only this week begun to thaw noticeably.

Praise from Bush on Germany’s ongoing military engagement in Afghanistan caused some flattered officials in Berlin to ponder how to clear any remaining tension out of the way. Now only a few months after the controversial war to oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was won, leading German politicians have begun to debate under just what circumstances Germany could help the United States win the peace in Iraq.

German Defense Minister Peter Struck this week said if there was a United Nations resolution supporting peacekeeping operations in Iraq, he saw no reason why German troops could not take part in a NATO operation in the country.

NATO takes lead in Afghanistan, possible role in Iraq

Washington, in the hopes of offsetting some of the burden of policing and rebuilding Iraq, is reportedly working on a new U.N. resolution for Iraq. NATO, which on Monday took over command of peacekeeping forces in Afghanistan from German and the Netherlands, could then help with some of the heavy lifting in Iraq.

"If the relevant U.N. mandates are in place and if NATO is asked to take on more responsibility, then we would have no reason to oppose an engagement by the Alliance in Iraq," Struck told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper.

Those comments unleashed a torrent of debate in Berlin both in and outside of the ruling center-left coalition of Social Democrats and Greens. The government spokesman Thomas Steg on Monday said Struck was speaking “very hypothetically” and that “nothing had changed” regarding Germany’s position on Iraq.

Despite the party’s strong pacifistic roots, Greens leader and military expert Angelika Beer said Germany could not completely rule out a German role in Iraq. She said she hoped the United States and Britain would transfer administration of the country to the United Nations, which if it then asked NATO for help, Germany would have to consider.

But other politicians rejected sending the German army to Iraq on any basis.

German army swamped

Umweltminister Jürgen Trittin ohne Bart

Jürgen Trittin

“Participation is out of the question,” Greens Environment Minister Jürgen Trittin told N-TV television, adding that the German military with missions in Afghanistan, the Balkans and elsewhere was “completely swamped.”

The deputy parliamentary leader of the Social Democrats Gernot Erler dismissed any talk about sending German troops to the still troubled country as “speculation.”

Conservatives cautious

Christian Schmidt, the defense spokesman for the conservative opposition, said the government was merely trying to patch things up with the Bush administration by putting the issue on the table.

But other conservatives were less quick to condemn possible NATO and German participation in postwar Iraq. Wolfgang Schäuble, the foreign policy expert for the Christian Democrats, said a concrete concept for a U.N. mandate was necessary before a role for NATO could be seriously discussed.

But he also held out the possibility sending German troops on the basis that it would be wrong to rule out helping stabilize Iraq, especially if there was an appropriate U.N. mandate. “To say again: we won’t take part no matter what is wrong,” Schäuble told the German news agency DPA.

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