Just days before Gerhard Schröder is due to meet U.S. President Bush, Germany announces it is willing to train the Iraqi security forces and send more aid. However, no German troops will set foot in Iraq.
German training will help Iraqi nationals police their own country
German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder declared in an interview on Thursday that Germany is prepared to train Iraqi police and soldiers in the country’s first step towards helping to rebuild Iraq. The announcement, jointly published in the the Wall Street Journal and German business daily Handelsblatt, comes just days before the chancellor flies to New York for a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly where he is expected to hold talks with U.S. President George W. Bush on the sidelines.
As far as concessions go, Germany’s decision should be accepted as a major breakthrough in the standoff with the United States which began towards the end of last year but exploded in acrimony over the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in the spring. Although discussions between Schröder and Bush in New York have yet to be officially confirmed, the chancellor has prepared his olive branch in anticipation of talks that a German government spokesperson described as "very likely" to take place. The meeting would herald the first face-to-face talks between the two leaders in more than a year.
Germany is ready
Schröder is ready.
“Germany is ready to help with the training of Iraqi police,” said Schröder. "Iraqi military could also be trained in our army colleges. And of course, we would also pay for this, as we do everywhere we are present." Training could take place in Germany or elsewhere, he said, but it might be dangerous within Iraq. The chancellor added that the training would go ahead independently of any United Nations resolution, indicating that the offer of training remained separate from the subject of troop deployments.
Less such an offer of help be misinterpreted, Defense Minister Peter Struck reiterated on Friday that it did not mean a shift towards the German military playing an active role in Iraq. With over 200,000 German troops already deployed abroad, “there is no need for Germany to station troops there,” he said.
On the surface, Schröder’s offer appears to be a compromise that suits both sides. His resolve that there will be no German military involvement in Iraq without a new U.N. mandate remains intact while he hopes that the German move is gratefully accepted by Washington which is struggling to convince the international community to assist in the continuously dangerous process of stabilizing post-war Iraq. Either way, it is likely to reheat a relationship that has been distinctly icy of late.
Germany, U.S. must win the peace
Bush was not a happy man.
In an open letter published in the New York Times on Thursday, Schröder wrote, “It is true that Germany and the United States disagreed on how best to deal with Saddam Hussein's regime. There is no point in continuing this debate. We should now look toward the future. We must work together to win the peace.”
Schröder also took the opportunity to pledge more German humanitarian support: “In addition to its current military involvement in Afghanistan, the Balkans and elsewhere, Germany is willing to provide humanitarian aid, to assist in the civilian and economic reconstruction of Iraq and to train Iraqi security forces.”
Humanitarian aid certain
Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, the federal minister for development and economic co-operation, echoed the chancellor’s pledge by saying in Friday’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper that Germany’s commitment to aiding Iraq, “went without saying.” She added that Germany wished to be involved in the donors conference in Madrid in October, a pledging round organized by the Spanish government in a bid to rally humanitarian support for Iraq.
This news was treated with skepticism by German aid agencies which have recently called on the government to lay out guidelines for humanitarian work in Iraq as the security situation in the country continues to decline. Fear for the safety of international aid agencies -- which have pulled staff out of Iraq since last month's attack on the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad -- are overshadowing preparations for the pledging conference.
Agencies have reservations
The United Nations headquarters in Baghdad.
It is one thing for the government to pledge the support of the agencies but another to protect them while they are in Iraq. Peter Witters from the German aid agency HELP told Deutsche Welle, “The problem is that the attacks are unpredictable, a sudden shot and you could be dead. You could be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Others believe that the aid organizations must first actually be in the country in order for the situation in Iraq to improve. Christoph Ernesti from Aktion Deutschland Hilft: “An army has a clear mission and an aid organization also. As a result, when the military does their job then we can do ours and maybe, when humanitarian aid gets through, the conflict can be reduced. But such is the high risk occupation of the international aid organizations.”