Following a protracted tug-of-war, Germany's opposition parties Friday agreed on the terms of reference for a parliamentary inquiry on the activities of German intelligence service BND before and during the Iraq war.
The opposition in parliament hopes to get to the bottom on the BND's role in Iraq
Germany's three opposition parties, the free-market liberal Free Democrats (FDP), the Left Party and the Greens accuse the former government of Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of having secretly supported the US-led war effort while publicly rejecting the 2003 invasion.
The parties have overcome their differences on the issue and on Friday agreed on a brief for the planned parliamentary inquiry. Stating the need for an inquiry had been one thing, but agreeing on joint terms of reference quite another, especially since one of the opposition parties -- the Greens -- was in government at the time and is worried about what the inquiry will reveal.
Now that this stumbling block is out of the way, the opposition has to collect the required 154 signatures in favor of the inquiry next week. Altogether, the three parties have 166 members in the Bundestag, meaning that they can afford over 10 dissidents in their own ranks.
BND's role in Baghdad crucial
Did BND agents help the US in preparing the invasion of Iraq?
The opposition wants the probe to deal first and foremost with the role of BND agents stationed in Baghdad before and during the war on Iraq. Of particular interest are all issues related to the question as to whether these agents or their bosses at home passed on any information to the US military or intelligence which might have helped the Americans pick bombing targets.
This would have meant direct involvement in the war effort and would have stood in stark contrast to the official line of the German government, which openly and vociferously opposed the war.
But the inquiry will deal with a number of other aspects as well, such as the abduction of a Lebanese-born German national to Afghanistan by the CIA and the interrogation of terror suspects by German intelligence agents in detention camps located in countries with a record of using torture.
Government rejects inquiry
Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter belonged to the former and current government
It didn't come as a major surprise that the ruling grand coalition of Social and Christian Democrats showed little understanding for the opposition's intentions.
"The Free Democrats should be ashamed of forging an alliance with the Left Party and the Greens in such a sensitive matter," said Peter Ramsauer, the parliamentary leader of Bavaria's Christian Social Union. "The really shouldn't ignore the damage they're about to do. The reputation of Germany's intelligence service is bound to suffer. And I doubt whether in such a situation the BND can do its job and provide maximum safety for our citizens in the months ahead."
For the opposition, the FDP's Jörg van Essen said he was certain the inquiry would not serve to discredit the work of the German intelligence, but would rather look into what he believes was a double game being played by the Schröder government.
He also brushed aside allegations that his party wanted to use the probe mainly as an instrument to win over voters during elections in several German states later this month.
The hearings will take place in a room like this one
The opposition parties have suggested that the inquiry could start as soon as the end of March. They -- especially the Greens -- don't want it to drag on for months on end, turning into a general investigation of the previous government's foreign policy. They are planning to appoint a special investigator to speed up things. The cross-party panel will most likely be made up of only seven parliamentarians.