A senior German spy and two Federal Intelligence Service agents denied involvement in identifying targets for the US in the Iraq war Wednesday. But politicians maintained a parliamentary inquiry will still go ahead.
The row surrounding alleged German secret service involvement in the opening salvos of the Iraq war continued apace Wednesday despite assurances by the head of the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) that BND operatives did not help the United States pick out bombing targets during the invasion of Iraq.
BND chief Ernst Uhrlau assured the parliament's foreign affairs committee that his agents only provided information to the United States on civilian sites to avoid in bombing raids during the opening air strike phase of the war.
Uhrlau's statement goes against recent media reports that the actions of the BND agents in Baghdad were more complicated than that and that they acted as scouts for a raid aimed at taking out Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein before the planned invasion. The claims have caused uproar because Germany strongly opposed the 2003 US-led invasion.
The committee was engaged in talks late Wednesday evening with the two agents at the center of the allegations and its representatives appeared six hours later to state that they accepted their denials of involvement in the raid on a restaurant on April 7, 2003, which failed to kill Saddam and his inner circle but killed a number of civilians. The agents also maintained that, prior to their deployment into the Iraqi capital, they had had no direct contact with US forces.
"The officials have credibly shown that they were not involved in any way in the preparation, planning or execution" of the bombing raid, committee chairman Norbert Röttgen told reporters.
The BND statements did little, however, to slow the wheels of motion moving the affair into the realm of a parliamentary inquiry.
Denials fail to slow the parliamentary wheels of motion
Politicians from the German opposition parties -- the Greens, the free-market liberal Free Democrats (FDP) and the Left Party -- continued to push for an extensive investigation into whether then Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's government played both sides of the war, appeasing public opinion and garnering popularity by opposing military action while covertly supporting it.
Jürgen Trittin said the BND denials did not end the discussion
Jürgen Trittin, a minister in the Schröder government and leading member of the Greens, said that the BND statements did not bring closure to the allegations.
"The discussion is not over," he told reporters. Rainer Stinner of the FDP shared his opinion: "We will continue these investigations," he said.
"It's about clearing up whether the rule of law was breached, how far German authorities may have taken part in that," Stinner continued, "and to what extent there was a contradiction between official statements of the government and actual conduct during the Iraq war."
"We must have a complete explanation of what happened during and after the war," said FDP parliamentary leader Wolfgang Gerhardt.
Germany complicit through involvement in Baghdad
Some politicians say the BND may have indirectly identified targets
Norman Paech of the Left Party was among a number of politicians who felt that the role of German agents in identifying 'non-targets' for bombing, such as hospitals and schools, was still an unacceptable German contribution to the war.
"If you specify what can't be shot at, that automatically frees up what can be shot at," Paech told reporters.
The opposition parties voted for a formal parliamentary investigation into the affair on Tuesday and are expected to gain the 25 percent of votes needed in the Bundestag debate on Friday for the inquiry to begin.
There are 614 parliamentarians in the Bundestag and the necessary amount of votes in favor to begin the investigation would be 154. The three opposition parties hold 166 seats in the parliament.
Fischer to oppose the probe as successor feels the heat
Six FDP members have said they will abstain, and one Green parliamentarian, former Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, is expected to oppose the probe just as he rejected it in his parliamentary group's vote on Tuesday. However, with the Left Party saying it will vote unanimously for the enquiry, it will still be enough to set the investigation in motion.
Joschka Fischer (l.) and Frank-Walter Steinmeier (r.) were both in Schröder's cabinet at the time
Fischer understood his party's desire to learn what key members of the government -- including himself -- knew but warned the inquiry would be used as a political weapon, the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper reported.
His successor, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, is under pressure because he was Schröder's chief of staff and responsible for overseeing the work of the security services at the time. He will return from the Middle East to vote in the parliamentary debate on Friday but some committee members have voiced frustration they had not had time to question Steinmeier ahead of the debate.