German foreign minister denies helping US fight Iraq war
Parliamentarians now want to know if the BND overstepped the mark in passing on critical strategic information, or if Steinmeier and Fischer, were involved in diplomatic double-dealing.
Berlin -- German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his predecessor Joschka Fischer denied on Thursday that German spies helped the United States military when it invaded Iraq in 2003.
It's "ludicrous," Steinmeier told a parliamentary committee investigating press reports suggesting that the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany's foreign intelligence service, assisted the United States in its war effort. "Trying to make out that this was participation in war is utterly absurd."
"As far as I know it's complete rubbish," Fischer, for his part, said earlier before the committee.
Fischer was foreign minister at the time, while Steinmeier was chief of staff to Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who angered Washington by opposing the US-led invasion.
Part of Steinmeier's responsibilities entailed overseeing the activities of the BND, which had infiltrated two men into Iraq shortly before the start of the war. Some of their reports were passed on the Americans.
Parliamentarians now want to know if the BND overstepped the mark in passing on critical strategic information, or if Steinmeier and Fischer, a member of the Green party, were involved in diplomatic double-dealing.
The allegations are all the more potentially damaging for Steinmeier, a Social Democrat, as he will be running in September's general elections against current chancellor Angela Merkel, a conservative.
US General Tommy Franks, who headed the US military invasion of Iraq, was quoted Wednesday by the Spiegel magazine's online edition as praising the work done by the German spies in Baghdad.
"It would be a huge mistake to underestimate the value of information provided by the Germans," Franks said. "These guys were invaluable."
Earlier in the week Spiegel magazine, citing interviews with 20 current or former US military officers, said the spy reports directly helped the United States plan the war.
The BND operatives were sent in to ensure Berlin got first-hand reports of the situation on the ground and were given clear instructions that "precluded their active support of combat operations," according to Steinmeier.