Germany’s opposition parties gained enough support Monday for a parliamentary inquiry into reports that the nation’s intelligence services passed on information about Saddam Hussein’s military to the U.S. before and during the invasion of Iraq.
Those suggestions have ignited a political furor here and raised concerns that while Germans opposed the war, the government of former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder quietly helped American forces. Such allegations have intrigued the capital in recent weeks as spies testify in secret and outraged lawmakers appear on television.
The scandal undermines the credibility of the Schroeder government’s passionate disavowal of the war. It threatens the new coalition government of Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, was Schroeder’s chief of staff in charge of intelligence oversight. Some opposition members have hinted that Steinmeier, who has denied the accusations, should resign.
The matter raises complicated questions about cooperation between allies on opposite ideological sides of a war. Germany allowed U.S. forces to use its airspace during the Iraq invasion and helped guard U.S. bases in Germany to free up American troops. But many German politicians say the country would have crossed the line if its two intelligence operatives in Baghdad had passed on military information to Washington.
It is unclear exactly what was given to the Americans. Steinmeier and federal intelligence chief Ernst Uhrlau initially said that German agents had provided specifics on hospitals and other nonmilitary buildings so those facilities wouldn’t be bombed. They denied reports that potential targets were shared, but the government has since admitted that it offered descriptions of military and police units as part of “goodwill” intelligence.
Other details emerged last week when officials here said a German agent passed on information to the U.S. Central Command in Qatar. A recent report in the New York Times suggested that also included providing Hussein’s military plan to defend Baghdad. Government spokesman Thomas Steg has denied that assertion for days, comparing the sketch German agents are said to have passed along to a child’s drawing that would have had little military value.
But the German media have been aggressive, and on Monday the Free Democrats agreed to join the Greens and the Left Party in supporting an investigation. The Free Democrats’ decision gave the opposition the threshold 25% of members in the lower house of Parliament that it needed to open an inquiry. A committee is expected to be formed this week, and an investigation could last months.
“We know we need qualified intelligence,” said Wolfgang Gerhardt, the parliamentary leader of the Free Democrats. “We have no objections against a well-working intelligence organization. We do have objections against the credibility of a [government] policy that tried to sell something different to the public from what it had stated.”
Momentum for an inquiry followed a closed parliamentary meeting, where classified information was discussed and reviewed by lawmakers. Some government officials have complained that a full investigation could damage U.S.-German relations and jeopardize the subtleties, alliances and secrecy involved in intelligence gathering.
An investigation is likely to embarrass Schroeder and his Social Democrats, part of the current coalition government led by Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union. Schroeder and his party controlled the government in 2002 when Berlin publicly criticized President Bush’s call for war. The former chancellor pledged not to send troops to Iraq and later won reelection largely on his war opposition.
“An investigation committee is of no use,” said Olaf Scholz, a Social Democratic member of Parliament. “It will not reveal anything else and will not lead to further knowledge.”