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Debate Rages on German Role in Post-War Iraq

A heated debate has erupted in Germany about its role in rebuilding post-war Iraq. While Chancellor Schröder says Berlin will provide prompt humanitarian aid, he's evasive about financial and military commitments.

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Scene of destruction -- a mangled passenger bus lies 20 miles south of the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

As the U.S.-led conflict in Iraq enters its seventh day, Germany, with its reputation as a generous donor in times of need, has begun debating the painstaking process of reconstructing a shattered post-war Iraq.

Chancellor Gerhard Schröder made it clear on Wednesday that Berlin would do everything it could to meet the immediate humanitarian needs of the suffering Iraqi population. "We want a discussion to be initiated in the U.N. Security Council as soon as possible," he said in Berlin. "The resources that are needed for it (humanitarian help) are and will be made available," he promised.

Hilfslieferung für die irakischen Bürger von Umm Kasr

A member of the Royal Marines 42 Commando group, right, helps Iraqi citizens of Umm Qsar.

Schröder has already pledged €50 million ( $53.4 million) in immediate aid to ease the immense humanitarian crisis facing Iraq. There are also discussions within the German Foreign Ministry on how to raise the amount of funds earmarked for humanitarian aid to Iraq. The German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development is also reportedly deciding on whether to set aside a further €10 million for emergency and refugee aid.

The U.N. World Food Program (WFP) estimates that the biggest humanitarian operation in history will be needed in Iraq to feed the population after the war. A spokesperson of the WFP said on Wednesday in Rome that some 27 million people, the entire population of Iraq, will be in need of basic foodstuff once the war is over.

"What we imagine is an enormous program, perhaps the biggest humanitarian operation in history," he said. The WFP estimates that the costs of the humanitarian operation could be as high as $1 billion.

Government unclear about exact role

But while most members of Schröder’s governing coalition of Social-Democrats and Greens agree that providing prompt humanitarian aid is a priority for Germany, they are divided when it comes to the exact nature of Germany’s role in the reconstruction of Iraq.

Amid calls from the conservative opposition that providing mere humanitarian aid on the part of Germany is not enough, Christine Scheel of the Green party who chairs the parliamentary finance committee, ruled out any German help in Iraq like the one seen during the last Gulf War in 1990-1991.

Back then Germany, in a much healthier economic state, paid about € 8.3 billion to the U.S., Britain and France for mainly "classical military responsibilities" such as freeing Kuwait from Saddam Hussein’s occupation. "That will not be repeated," Scheel warned on Wednesday.

Another member of Chancellor Schröder’s cabinet, International Development Minister, Heidemarie Wieczorek Zeul made it clear earlier this week that Washington would have to bear the major brunt of the cost of the war in Iraq. "Those who have destroyed, must bear the main cost of reconstruction," she said bluntly.

Schröder remains non-commital

Chancellor Schröder has so far refused to be as unequivocal in his statements regarding the future of Iraq and repeatedly put off committing himself to any kind of concrete responsibility in post-war Iraq. He said it was too early for such discussions at a time when hostilities were still going on. When the war is over, the discussions should only take place under the auspices of the U.N., Schröder said.

ARD Foto Fernsehansprache v. Bundeskanzler Schröder Irak Krieg

Gerhard Schroeder

"I think, it makes no sense to discuss the question of finances. I think, that one must and can use the existing resources of the country in the first place," he said with regard to the oil reserves in Iraq. Economic experts estimate that the costs of rebuilding Iraq are likely to be in the range of hundreds of billions of dollars, way beyond U.S. calculations of some $75 billion.

Reconstructing Iraq could cost Germany dearly

But despite the chancellor’s refusal to be drawn into a discussion about the reconstruction of Iraq, experts in Germany are already warning that the direct and indirect costs of the war in Iraq will put a massive strain on Germany’s federal budget.

The Head of the Institute for European Economy in Bremen, Rudolf Hickel told news agency AFP on Wednesday that Germany could end up shelling out €20 to 30 billion for reconstruction and humanitarian work in Iraq.

Even the deputy head of the Social Democrat parliamentary group, Gernot Erler has said that German participation in reconstruction efforts for Iraq could lead to further budgetary problems for Germany at a time when the country is in dire financial straits. Erler said that that since no specific funds had been earmarked in the federal budget for a comprehensive German role in post-war Iraq, Germany’s participation could lead to new debts.

German economy and business leaders have shown mixed feelings about the chances for German firms to receive profitable contracts in the reconstruction of Iraq.

The Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK) and the construction industry are optimistic that if the reconstruction of Iraq takes place under the aegis of the international community, German companies could expect a fair share of the contracts.

"Then our firms would stand a chance," a spokesperson of the DIHK told Reuters. He said that the German construction industry was interested in contracts in the Gulf region and had worked there intensively in the 1970s- and 80s.

On the other hand the Federation of German Wholesale and Foreign Trade (BGA) is skeptical of German firms gaining a foothold in Iraq's reconstruction, fearing that most of the contracts would be awarded to U.S. companies and agencies.

The reconstruction of Iraq is already being planned by the American agency for international development, USAID, that has a budget of $600 million and in principle, the agency is meant to give all interested companies a fair chance when awarding contracts.

Will German soldiers be sent to post-war Iraq?

Apart from the humanitarian and financial aspects of German help in post-war Iraq, Chancellor Schröder has also remained vague on whether Germany’s military will be involved in any kind of peacekeeping operations in Iraq.

Schröder avoided answering questions on whether German soldiers would be involved in any U.N. peacekeeping mission in post-conflict Iraq. At a press conference in Berlin on Wednesday, Schröder said he considered it "wrong" to have such "theoretical" debates at such a time, but said that Germany would fulfill its international obligations.

Schröder also said stressed that Defense Minister, Peter Struck, had also ruled out the deployment of German soldiers as U.N. peacekeepers, thus quashing earlier speculation that the German government was planning to send in German U.N. peacekeepers to Iraq and raise the budget of the German military for that purpose.

About 9,000 German soldiers are currently deployed on foreign soil.

At the same time, Schröder, a staunch opponent of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, didn’t entirely rule out sending German soldiers to post-war Iraq, saying he didn’t want to have a public debate on it before the war ended.

In a sign that the chancellor might actually be considering a bigger role for the German military in Iraq, Schröder told Die Zeit newspaper that the Iraq crisis had shown that a stronger European defense policy was necessary. Those who say no to war, he said, "should be in the position to contribute something on their own."

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