FM Steinmeier under pressure over Iraq war role
18 January 2006, BERLIN - German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is under growing pressure amid media allegations that German spies helped target U.S. bombs during the Iraq war.
18 January 2006
BERLIN - German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is under growing pressure amid media allegations that German spies helped target U.S. bombs during the Iraq war.
Steinmeier is at the centre of a storm over the affair because he played a crucial role as chief-of-staff to former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's government which - in public - fiercely opposed the 2003 Iraq war.
He was also the coordinator of Germany's intelligence services which has led most German newspapers to insist there was no way Steinmeier could not have known what Federal Intelligence Agency (BND) agents were doing in Baghdad.
As accusations snowball and parliament gears up for a special probe into the BND's role in Iraq, Steinmeier abruptly announced he was cutting short a planned trip to the Middle East.
The embattled minister leaves for Egypt on Wednesday, after testifying to parliament's foreign affairs committee, but has cancelled stops in Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian territories planned for later this week.
Christian Democratic Chancellor Angela Merkel has been markedly quiet over struggles by Steinmeier - who is a Social Democrat - to survive.
A possible ouster of Steinmeier would likely strengthen Merkel and her conservatives in the grand coalition government by removing one of the SPD's heavyweights in the cabinet.
"Steinmeier is getting a roasting and Merkel is keeping out of it," noted the left-leaning Berliner Kurier newspaper, adding: "How much longer can she hold on to him?"
The allegations boil down to the activities of two BND agents who remained in Baghdad during the Iraq war.
Media reports in Germany and the U.S., citing unnamed sources, allege the agents passed on key information to U.S. intelligence, including a report which led to an attack on a restaurant where Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was believed to have been dining.
An attack on the restaurant in April 2003 killed at least 12 people but, needless to say, Saddam Hussein was not among them.
Some sources in Berlin suggest the reports of German assistance have been leaked on purpose by U.S. officials in a bid to topple Steinmeier given the role he played under Schroeder.
Both the BND and Steinmeier have strongly denied that German agents passed any targeting data to Washington and say the agents were only in Iraq to help prevent German and Iraqi civil institutions from becoming U.S. targets.
But the Leipziger Volkszeitung newspaper reported Wednesday Steinmeier pledged to the U.S. before the war that German spies in Iraq would provide information to Washington. This was an apparent effort to dampen American fury over Schroeder's role in leading European anti-war sentiment.
Both BND agents were told not to directly aid the U.S. war effort, said the paper.
But it quoted unnamed sources as saying: "At the same time, information over military convoys, military positions in Baghdad and government measures ... were supposed to be passed on to the Americans."
In addition, the paper said, there were two key areas where the German spies were supposed to immediately pass on any intelligence: The whereabouts of Saddam Hussein and possible weapons of mass destruction.
This data was supposed to go to Washington, but only via the BND's headquarters in the southern German city of Pullach, the paper noted.
Meanwhile, the SPD's cabinet woes are not only limited to Steinmeier.
Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel could be investigated by state prosecutors over allegations he may have lied under oath regarding a payment of more than 100,000 euros (121,000 dollars) to his former lobbying company, CoNeS, by German carmaker Volkswagen, the newspaper Die Welt reported.
Subject: German news