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Germany

Opposition Leader Under Fire for Pro-U.S. Stance

Angela Merkel, the leader of the Christian Democratic Union, stands behind the United States in its war against Iraq. But many members of the party do not, and they have let her know it.

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Angela Merkel's support of U.S.-led action in Iraq has sparked criticism from within conservative ranks.

When the United States and its allies began their war against the regime of Saddam Hussein, the leader of Germany's biggest opposition party let the country's voters know on March 20 where she stood: on the side of the United States.

As the cruise missiles wrecked more Iraqi targets and the ground forces moved forward, Angela Merkel of the Christian Democratic Party strengthened her support for the U.S. position. In a talk show appearance last week, she said, "you reach a point where a war is unavoidable."

Following this appearance, Merkel wrote a letter to party members on Friday, further supporting her stance on the issue. "The use of military force must remain the last resort -- the ultima ratio. I think that it is irresponsible to categorically rule out the use of military force as a last resort," Merkel wrote, alluding to the position taken by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

With each statement, Merkel's foundation of support within the party has shown signs of eroding, both among members of the Christian Democrats' upper-tier leadership and among its rank and file. The conflict comes at a time when the country's battered chancellor, the Social Democrat Schröder, has used his opposition to the war to soldifiy backing within his party ranks and among the thousands of citizens who regularly march in protest against the U.S.-led war.

Support among voters slips

The issue of war has also stopped the growing support that the Christian Democrats have enjoyed as unemployment continues to climb and economic growth remains slow. As a result of this endorsement, the party gained an absolute majority in the state election held on Feb. 2 in Hesse and managed to drive the Social Democrats from power in Schröder's home state of Lower Saxony.

In a poll released on Friday, support for the Christian Democrats fell from 54 percent two weeks ago to 50 percent. The Social Democrats continued their comeback, rising to 30 percent from 27 percent. Among voters likely to vote for the Christian Democrats, 49 percent said they did not agree with the party's position on the war.

Within the Christian Democrats' leadership, the premier of the small western state Saarland was one of the first prominent party members to challenge Merkel. "First of all, there is no sufficient mandate authorizing this war," Peter Müller told the newspaper Die Welt shortly after the fighting began. "... Second of all, I do think that there are other ways of disarming Iraq. War can only be a last resort, and I don't think every way of achieving a peaceful solution to the conflict was explored."

Christian Democrats called "appendage"

The criticism continued throughout the weekend, and by Monday another leading party member, foreign policy specialist Karl Lamers, was publicly among the critics. "I don't understand Angela Merkel and her unconditional clinging to the Americans," Lamers told the newspaper Rheinische Post. "In this way, we are becoming a passive appendage and not an object in the political process."

But Merkel has other leading members on her side. Wolfgang Bosbach, a deputy leader of the Christian Democrats' parliamentary group, said Merkel had little choice in the issue. "Once the war began, it became immediately clear that any slipping away from America's side would mean that you supported the continued rule of the Iraqi regime," Bosbach said.

Merkel also has won backing from one of her leading rivals for the party's chancellor nomination in 2006. In a radio interview on Monday morning, Roland Koch said he supported Merkel's position without reservation. Koch, the premier of the central state of Hesse, described the dispute as typical for a political party. "How can we think that all Christian Democratic leaders will suddenly agree on such an issue in our country?" he asked.

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