A scandal is brewing in political Berlin after two news organizations reported Wednesday that German intelligence agents helped the US during military operations in Iraq. Germany's foreign minister denied the reports.
Agents reportedly aided in picking out Baghdad bomb targets
In a front page story in the respected Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ), renowned investigative journalist Hans Leyendecker and colleague Wolfgang Krach quoted a high-ranking German security source as saying that two Federal Intelligence Agency agents (BND) in Baghdad helped the US military assess targets during the air invasion of Iraq in the war's opening weeks.
The office of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who thrust US-German relations into an ice age through his disapproval of the Iraq invasion, reportedly knew about the cooperation and approved of it, according to the article. The cooperation was made after a "political decision" by Schröder's coalition government. "This wasn't the decision of some department head," the SZ quoted their source as saying.
Schröder opposed the war, but reportedly approved intelligence cooperation
Current foreign minister denies report
The report was indirectly confirmed by a former US defense official in the German television program "Panorama." Whereas the article in the SZ said the agents were involved in reporting targets on the ground that shouldn't be attacked, the US defense official claimed the agents did much more.
The BND gave "direct support" in "selecting targets", said the official. One example of that support: a BND agent drove to the Baghdad district Mansur in an armored limousine in order to confirm US suspicions that a caravan of cars carrying Iraqi officials, including Saddam Hussein, was driving through the area. The information he relayed on April 7, 2003, was reportedly used in an immediate bomb attack on a complex of buildings in which at least 12 people died.
Help in picking out Saddam as a bomb target
Franz-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister who was former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's chief of staff during the invasion, confirmed Thursday that BND agents were in Baghdad during the invasion, but denied they provided target advice.
The SZ reported that a BND agent received high honors from the US military for his help.
Opposition demands investigation
The BND disputed the report, saying that the office only "gathered, evaluated and reported information to the federal government, within the framework of their federal mandate." The agency chiefly reported information on the war's progress and its consequences, said the BND.
Claudia Roth has called for a full investigation
Reaction to the reports has been highly critical. The head of the free-market liberals, Guido Westerwelle, said they were "very grave accusations." The domestic affairs spokesman for his party, the Free Democrats, said that should the report prove true it would be a "definite scandal needing an urgent and comprehensive explanation."
The Green party, at the time Schröder's junior coalition partner in the government, also demanded an explanation. "That would be a blatant infringement on the German 'no' to the Iraq war," party chief Claudia Roth told wire agency dpa. She also demanded a comprehensive parliamentary investigation. "Not the least bit of doubt should remain," she said.
The head of the Left Party's parliamentary group, Oskar Lafontaine, said: "If the current foreign minister knew about this, he could not remain (in office)."