Under fire over allegations that its spies in Iraq secretly aided the US invasion that Berlin vocally opposed, the German government has denied any wrongdoing and resisted calls for a parliamentary inquiry.
Did German spies help US troops select bombing targets in Iraq?
Speaking in parliament on Friday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the two agents from the German foreign intelligence service (BND) who were based in Baghdad during the conflict had given "no support for the pursuit of war." He said they had done nothing to contravene the government's opposition to the war.
Steinmeier described media allegations that Berlin had shared military secrets with Washington during the war as "scandal-mongering".
Frank-Walter Steinmeier has vehemently denied all the allegations
The reports, which cited unnamed sources, allege that German agents passed on key information to US intelligence, including a report which led to an attack on a restaurant where then Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was believed to have been dining. Fourteen civilians were killed in the bombing of the site in the al Mansour residential area of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.
Germany was an outspoken critic of the US-led war on Iraq and steadfastly refused to contribute troops to the invasion. Steinmeier, who was Chancellor Schröder's Chief of Staff at the time, appealed to opposition parties to drop their call for a parliamentary inquiry into the role of the agents, and reminded MPs that not a single German soldier died in Iraq as a result of the then government's refusal to send troops.
"Any investigation would lead to attempts to discredit the policy that made that possible," Steinmeier said. He added that an inquiry could lead to "anti-Americanism" and a rejection of the role of NATO.
Any German guidance?
Steinmeier cut short a tour of the Middle East in order to take part in the parliamentary debate and defend the agents' role. Questioned in a closed-doors session of a parliamentary supervisory commission this week, the agents said they had played no role in selecting the targets for bombing, including the attack on the restaurant, and had no direct contact with US officials.
The chairman of that commission, Norbert Röttgen, told parliament that he was satisfied that the agents were telling the truth.
"The BND agents who were at the scene were in no way involved in either the preparation, the planning or the execution of the bombing of the restaurant in al Mansour on April 7, 2003," Röttgen said.
Cracks have begun appearing in the opposition's attempt to force an inquiry. "We are prepared to get to the bottom of the matter, which is what the other opposition parties want too," said Volker Beck, a lawmaker from the Greens, who were junior partners in Schröder's government. "But we are not interested in creating political hot air."
Former German Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer
Meanwhile Joschka Fischer, the Greens politician who was foreign minister at the time of the war, said the government had been careful not to violate its own principles in deploying the two agents to Baghdad.
"To my knowledge, we never crossed the red line, the political-moral line, which we drew for ourselves," Fischer said.