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Schröder Rejects War That Will Kill 'Thousands' in Iraq

March 19, 2003

Germany's chancellor says in a reaction to the United States' ultimatum that the United Nations should be able to continue its inspection program. But the country's opposition parties back Bush.

Addressing the nation: Chancellor Gerhard SchröderImage: AP

In a national address, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said on Tuesday morning that he steadfastly opposed President George W. Bush's just announced ultimatum to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and the war that the demand could trigger.

"My question was and remains: Does the size of the threat posed by the Iraqi dictator justify a decision to wage a war that will surely lead to the deaths of thousands of innocent children, women and men? My answer to this question was and remains: No," the chancellor said.

Bush Irak Rede
President Bush
Schröder made his television address eight hours after U.S. President George W. Bush (photo) gave Saddam 48 hours to leave his country and told Americans that a military confrontation would ultimately make them safer. "The security of the world requires disarming Saddam Hussein now," Bush said.

Division between Americans and Germans

The issue of war against Iraq has driven a wedge between the United States and Germany, two allies whose relationship was tightly bound together during four decades of Cold War and the reunification of West Germany and East Germany that followed in 1990. Schröder began criticizing Bush's plans for a war during the summer as he campaigned for re-election. As part of his stump speeches, Schröder said German troops would not participate in such a war. He intensified that opposition in January, when he announced that Germany would vote against any U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing a war against Iraq.

During the address on Tuesday, Schröder reiterated one position he took during much of the debate. "Iraq is a country that is being extensively inspected by the United Nations," he said. "The disarmament steps that the Security Council has demanded are being increasingly implemented. Therefore, there is no reason to break off this process of disarmament."

Schröder delivered the roughly five-minute address while sitting at a desk with his hands folded in front of him. At his back was a large office window framed by the German and European flags to his right and a plant to his left. Outside on this hazy morning, traffic rolled along a road located not far from the home of the German parliament, the Reichstag.

The chancellor concluded the address by pledging to continue to work for peace and security. "You can be assured that my government will steadfastly use every chance, no matter how small, to achieve world peace. You can also be assured that we will take every possible measure to ensure security in our country," he said.

Opposition parties back U.S.

Unlike Schröder, Germany's major opposition parties endorsed the course set by Bush. "We regret that the use of military force has become more likely and that the U.N. Security Council was unable to reach a unified position on the question of completely and unconditionally disarming Iraq, even though it unanimously determined that a threat to world peace existed," a statement said.

The statement was passed on Tuesday with only four negative votes by the combined parliamentary groups of the Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union.

The pending war against Saddam's regime raises a parliamentary question for Schröder. Despite his opposition to the conflict, Schröder has sent German air crews to serve on NATO surveillance flights as part of the alliance's support of Turkey, its member that borders Iraq. Members of the opposition maintain that the parliament needs to approve such mission. The chancellor says the vote is unnecessary, and he plans to discuss the issue on Wednesday in the parliament.

Chirac joins criticism of U.S.

Schröder was joined in his opposition to Bush's latest plans by Jacques Chirac, the French president who had threatened to veto the American drive for war in the U.N. Security Council. "This one-sided decision contradicts the will of the Security Council and the international community," Chirac said in a statement released on Tuesday.

In Moscow, the country's parliament protested Bush's decision by postponing indefinitely a vote on an American-Russian nuclear disarmament treaty. Like France, Russia had pledged to use its veto to sidetrack a resolution authorizing a war.

Poles, Australians to provide troops

In contrast, Bush gained the support of other countries after the speech. Poland, a NATO ally, will deploy 200 elite troops to the region, and Australia said it would commit the 2,000 soldiers it has already sent to the Persian Gulf region.

The prime minister of Japan, Junichiro Koizumi, also endorsed Bush's plans. "U.S. President Bush has conducted a major undertaking in his search for international support," Koizumi said. "And in this sense, I think he has made an inevitable decision."

Recep Tayyip Erdogan Türkei
Recep Tayyip ErdoganImage: AP

Turkey's new prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan (photo), also took a step on Tuesday toward possible support of the U.S. military. Erdogan said the country's parliament would reconsider the matter on Wednesday or Thursday. The parliament voted on March 1 against allowing the United States to station a force of 62,000 troops who could have invaded Iraq across the Turkish border.

Details about the new plan were not released. They could include the use of Turkish air space during a war, the admission of elite U.S. troops or the old proposal.