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Germany

Overburdened German Army not Likely to Head to Iraq

After the U.S. Senate decided to request NATO help in postwar Iraq, speculation is spreading in Germany about a possible military deployment, despite concerns about the army’s overstretched capacities.

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Under pressure -- American and British troops in Iraq are hoping for reinforcements from NATO.

With the German military or Bundeswehr grappling with peacekeeping operations in three continents at present, the political discussion on a possible military involvement in postwar Iraq has been dominated by ground realities.

Karsten Voigt, coordinator for German-U.S. relations in the German government told the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel on Tuesday the Bush administration wasn’t expecting a quick German contribution in Iraq and was aware the German military was stretched to the limit with its foreign deployments. Voigt added Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, currently in the U.S., would not be "pressurized" by Bush on the question.

Even parliamentary foreign policy spokesman for Germany’s opposition Christian Democrats (CDU) said last week, "I think our friends know that we have limited resources."

Indeed, with about 9,000 soldiers scattered in the Balkans, Afghanistan and as far as the Horn of Africa, the German army, plagued in recent years by chronic underfunding and in the thick of a radical overhaul, has its hands full.

Army overworked, but can still do Iraq

Wilfried Stolze, spokesman for the Federal Armed Forces Union, told Deutsche Welle another foreign deployment would massively step up the logistical and financial burden on the Bundeswehr. "After all, the German army right now is undergoing its biggest shake-up in history," he explained.

Restructuring plans include modernizing the army, trimming the number of civilian jobs while at the same time increasing the number of soldiers (from 282,000 to 300,000), slashing military spending and training troops to gear up for new military challenges, including foreign deployments.

Stolze said a U.S. request for military help in Iraq would pose a big problem to the overburdened Bundeswehr. "What we lack is manpower – especially specialists such as paramedics and radio operators. Besides, another foreign deployment would involve a huge initial operation within Germany. We simply can’t afford that."

At the same time Stolze did not rule out the Bundesweher scraping together troops if it came down to it and said realistically about 1,500 to 2,000 soldiers could be sent to Iraq. "However, what’s important is that the mandate is a limited and robust one – the soldiers have to be well-armed – and that it takes place under U.N. auspices," he added.

U.S. turns to NATO for help in Iraq

The present discussion over an Iraq deployment follows a request last week by the United States Senate to the NATO military alliance for support to reinforce the 147,000 American troops serving as occupying forces in Iraq. Continuing resistance from Iraqi groups, mounting American and British casualties and rising costs of maintaining a huge peacekeeping operation in Iraq has forced the U.S. to seek broader international support.

Though no concrete request has come in as yet from the U.S., German government spokesman Bela Anda said over the weekend it was possible a request would be received at the NATO Council in Brussels after the summer break.

So far the reaction from NATO countries, prominently Germany and France, has been lukewarm. Both say there is no adequate United Nations mandate to legitimize their presence in Iraq. France, like Germany, is also heavily involved in foreign military deployments in the Balkans, Ivory Coast, Congo and Afghanistan.

Germany: nothing without a U.N. mandate

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, whose antiwar and pro-U.N. stance when the U.S. invaded Iraq strained relations with Washington, said in a television interview last week his government would not send troops to Iraq except in a NATO context and only with a specific mandate from the U.N.

He said the Bush administration had already been informed of his position. The chancellor’s coalition government also has the support of the conservative opposition in insisting that the U.N. needs to play the central role in rebuilding and stabilizing Iraq.

Politicians still divided about possible deployment

However, the hard realities of the army’s stretched capabilities now has German politicians speculating on what alternative help Germany could provide in Iraq under a U.N. mandate.

On Tuesday, foreign policy speaker of the opposition CDU, Friedbert Pflüger, said in a newspaper interview that Germany would have to contribute towards rebuilding civil society and securing peace in Iraq if NATO were to receive a request to that effect from the U.N. He suggested reducing the number of German peacekeepers in the Balkans in order to facilitate sending troops to Iraq. "We have to watch out in any case that we don’t throw away this great chance through mistakes," he said in a reference to Germany’s shunning by Washington earlier this year after Berlin refused to support the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

However members of Schröder’s Social Democrat and the Green government are vehemently against sending German troops to Iraq, even under a U.N. mandate. Leader of the Social Democrat parliamentary group Gernot Erler said German police and aid workers could be sent to Iraq, but not the army. "Nobody can really expect a country, that so clearly rejected the Iraq war, to send in soldiers there," he said.

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