Germany's Joschka Fischer, a chief opponent of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, said on Saturday he feared continued fighting in Iraq was destabilizing the entire Middle East and playing into the hands of Islamic terrorism.
The Americans have inherited the entire array of conflicts, Fischer said.
In some of his strongest criticism of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq to date, Fischer was quoted in the German news magazine Der Spiegel as saying the situation in Iraq had reached a critical stage, and that the current turmoil threatened to spill over into neighboring countries and lead to a wider eruption of violence in the Middle East.
"The very thing that I feared has happened," the foreign minister said. "We feared the occupation [of Iraq] would strengthen Islamic terrorism and destabilize the region -- and that's what's looming now."
Fischer, like Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, had been a strong opponent of the war from the very beginning. But after German-American relations suffered a serious blow last year over support for the invasion, the two leaders softened their rhetoric and refrained from direct criticism of the U.S. invasion.
Since then both politicians have concentrated on securing a bigger role for the United Nations. Had Washington turned over authority to the United Nations at a much earlier date, as many in Europe had requested, Fischer is convinced the current situation could have been avoided or at least could have been better contained.
"When the Americans marched into Baghdad, they became the decisive Middle-Eastern power," he told the magazine. "They inherited the entire array of conflicts. That was the primary reason we warned against the war -- and not because there was an election campaign [in Germany] going on, as some have claimed."
At the time many political observers in Berlin and Washington had accused Fischer, who ran for the Greens party, and Schröder of the SPD, of capitalizing on the anti-war stance in order to rake in more votes from the largely pacifist population.
U.N. must take over in Iraq
Fischer said there was a very real danger that the problems in Iraq could spread to more violence in the region. He urged the United States to hand over complete control of the political process to the U.N.
"I fear it's becoming increasingly difficult to find positive ways of resolving matters," he worried. "It's possible that two hot conflicts become linked -- that is, the Israel-Palestine conflict and Iraq."
"A very explosive mixture has been created in the region and I think the Europeans would do well to do what they can to bring a moderating influence to the situation," he said referring to the EU's attempts to take on a bigger diplomatic role.
Speaking on behalf of the German government, Fischer once again stressed that Germany would not send troops to Iraq, not even in the framework of a NATO mission.
"I don't see how European troops, from either France or Germany, could make any constructive contribution," he said. The Iraqis "would also view us as an occupying force, we shouldn't have any illusions about that."