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Germany

Germany Reluctant to Participate in Iraq Security

As US troops mount a massive offensive against the rebel-held Iraqi city of Fallujah on Monday following attacks over the weekend, Germany debates participating in NATO training programs for Iraqi security forces.

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US troops are on the frontline but will Germans soon be in Iraq too?

German opposition leaders are calling for an active participation in a NATO-led training program currently underway in Iraq. Foreign policy expert for the Christian Democrats Wolfgang Schäuble criticized the government of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder for not doing enough to promote security and democracy in Iraq.

Following the re-election of US President George W. Bush, Germany should show its support for the reconstruction efforts in the war-torn country, where democracy is still a fragile force frequently undermined by armed rebels, Schäuble said in an interview with Financial Times Deutschland. Germany must reconsider its current policy of resisting troop deployment to Iraq, he said in the Monday edition.

Poisoning relations

Although Berlin agreed back in September to participate in the NATO program to train Iraqi police and military, its contribution to the international initiative has been limited to providing transportation vehicles and instructing the security forces outside the country in the United Arab Emirates. Schröder and his coalition government of Social Democrats and Greens have refused to budge on their opposition to deploying German troops in Iraq.

But Schäuble has called that position "poison" in the transatlantic ties. "Withholding German soldiers from an integrated NATO contingent is poison for the Atlantic partnership," he told the newspaper. "That is exactly what weakens multilateralism."

The US Ambassador to Germany, Daniel Coats, also came out strong against Germany's reluctance to contribute substantially to the rebuilding of Iraq in a Handelsblatt interview. The debate in NATO over training Iraqi security forces is counterproductive, he said. Every member state understands this issue takes absolute priority, "but nonetheless, NATO is occupying itself with a never-ending stream of arguments from half a dozen countries who refuse to participate."

Over the weekend, German Defense Minister Peter Struck reiterated the government's opposition to setting foot in Iraq and stressed instead that Germany would play its role in training Iraqi expeditionary forces and mine-disposal experts, outside the country, if required.

Increasing NATO's participation

Altogether NATO is sending about 40 officers to Iraq and neighboring countries to train police and soldiers -- a paltry contribution according to the US, which has lobbied for an increased NATO presence in the unstable country.

According to Washington, NATO should increase the numbers of troops in Iraq to 3,000, of which only about a tenth would be military trainers. Given the unbroken cycle of violence since the US handed over control to an interim government at the end of June and the upcoming elections in January, the US Defense Department has been adamant about getting its transatlantic partners more involved in securing Iraq.

Daniel Coats, who has been cited as a possible successor to current Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, has said that a more active involvement in Iraq could go a long way in improving the strained relations between Europe and the United States.

"Both sides should take a few steps towards each other," he told Handelsblatt. "I think the US government began this process last year, and now it's time for positive steps from the European side."

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