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Germany

German Government in Disarray Over Iraq

There's more trouble brewing for the Social Democratic-Green coalition - this time over the involvement of German troops and equipment in a possible Iraq conflict.

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Germany's Defense Minister Peter Struck (right) may not have much to laugh about if an Iraqi war becomes reality.

With internecine squabbling fast becoming the German government's trademark, the coalition partners have duely launched their next potentially damaging dispute.

This time it's over the use of German troops stationed in Kuwait in a possible United States-led war on Iraq. There are currently 52 soldiers and six fox reconnaissance armoured vehicles based in Kuwait. These can be used to detect chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

Dispute over Kuwait mission

Over the weekend, it emerged that several leading members of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Greens are at odds with the SPD's Peter Struck, Germany's defense minister, over the force's possible mission.

Deutscher Spürpanzer Fuchs

These Bundeswehr vehicles could be used to help allied forces detect chemical weapons in an Iraqi war.

Hans Ulrich Klose, an SPD expert on foreign affairs, said that the fox vehicles should be put at the disposal of the United States in the event of a war on Iraq.

Struck, however, rejected the idea. "I do not share Klose's view, " he said, citing constitutional problems and the German government's mandate on fighting terrorism which does not extend to committing German troops to a war against Iraq. Struck also remained adamant that he would not send more troops to Kuwait.

As if to highlight the SPD's internal disarray, Struck's own parliamentary state secretary, Hans Georg Wagner, contradicted his minister, saying that the German troops and tanks would "naturally" be deployed in the event of an attack.

Greens warn against involvement

While the Greens concede the possible use of the troops in Kuwait, they remain firmly opposed to any other involvement in a possible war. Winfried Nachtwei, the Greens' parliamentary group's spokesman on defense policy, warned of Germany being dragged into a conflict against its will.

"We must ensure that we don't find ourselves sliding toward a war in Iraq," he said, arguing that the deployment of other weapons such as missiles would constitute an impermissible contribution to a war effort.

He was referring to newspaper reports over the weekend that the U.S. had asked the Berlin government for anti-aircraft missiles in the case of a war. Defense minister Peter Struck denied that was the case. "The report is false," he said.

The report, quoting senior government officials, said Washington had asked Germany to prepare to provide an unspecified number of Patriot missiles. The officials allegedly hinted that the request would be difficult to turn down if it was intended to defend Israel or Turkey.

However, on Tuesday the German government confirmed that Israel had asked the German military for Patriot missiles but that the request was a year old. A spokesman said the request had been renewed last week.

Defense Minister Peter Struck said he would provide details of the Israeli request to the parliamentary group leaders on Wednesday and would also inform them of any demands made by the United States for a German contribution to a possible war on Iraq.

Breach of international law?

Meanwhile, Angelika Beer, the Greens' expert on defense matters, questioned the legitimacy of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's stance on allowing Washington to use German airspace or U.S bases here in the event of a war.

"If there is no clear international law mandating a war, then there can be no decree granting airspace, because this would effectively constitute involvement in a war violating international law, something the Chancellor has ruled out," she said.

Political pundits attribute Schröder's victory in September's general election to his hardline anti-war stance. However the conservative opposition says Schröder will be forced to choose between breaking that promise, thereby deceiving the electorate, or risk further damaging US - German relations.

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