An embattled government on Monday firmly dismissed a newspaper report that it provided intelligence on Saddam Hussein's plans to defend Baghdad to American commanders one month before US-led forces invaded Iraq.
Did German spies aid the US course in Iraq?
A New York Times article stating that two German spies in Baghdad had obtained and passed on a copy of Saddam's Baghdad defense plan was untrue, government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm told reporters at a tightly-packed press conference.
"The claim that the two BND officers had acquired Saddam Hussein's plan to defend the Iraqi capital and handed it to the US one month before the war's outbreak, as it states in the New York Times report, is false," he said, referring to the German foreign intelligence agency or BND.
"The BND, and with it the German government, were unaware of such a plan until now, nor was the BND aware of a meeting of Saddam Hussein with his commanders on December 18, 2002, as reported in The New York Times."
Wilhelm was referring to a meeting, according to the report, at which Saddam and the top Iraqi brass allegedly developed a plan to deploy his most loyal troops.
The explosive article, which cited a classified report by the US military, asserted that "in providing the Iraqi document, German intelligence officials offered more significant assistance to the United States than their government has publicly acknowledged".
The center-left government under former chancellor Gerhard Schröder vocally opposed the US-led war in Iraq, although it publicly acknowledged providing limited assistance for the US military at the time.
Those efforts including guarding US bases in Germany to free up US troops, stationing German soldiers capable of dealing with a chemical weapons attack in Kuwait and supporting NATO plans to send AWACS surveillance planes and Patriot missiles to Turkey.
The German government released a report from an internal inquiry last week stating that the two German spies in Baghdad provided intelligence to the US military during the Iraq war. But the account rejected media reports that the agents had helped select bombing targets.
The BND said Monday that all the reports written by the two agents during their stay in Baghdad between February 15, 2003 and May 2, 2003 had been presented to a parliamentary supervisory committee investigating the officers' role in January and included no mention of a Baghdad defense plan.
"A dramatic turn"
Two of Germany's three opposition parties have said they are unsatisfied with the inquiry and have called for a full parliamentary probe, which would allow government officials to be questioned.
Max Stadler, a deputy with the liberal Free Democrats, the third opposition party whose support would be needed to launch such an investigation, said that if The New York Times report were true it would mark a "dramatic turn".
The party plans to decide March 7 whether to back the probe.