German inquiry to probe Iraq war, CIA links

By Mark Trevelyan, Security Correspondent
Apr 7, 6:30 AM (ET)

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's parliament gave the green light on Friday for a parliamentary inquiry into whether German spies in Baghdad helped the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 at a time when the government was publicly opposed to the war.

Lawmakers voted to approve the probe, which will examine various sensitive aspects of the security services' work and their cooperation with the United States.

It will also look into the Central Intelligence Agency's alleged abduction of a German national and secret transfer of at least one terrorist suspect via Germany.

The government of conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel had previously argued in vain that the investigation would be a time-wasting distraction that would stir up anti-American feeling at a time when Berlin is trying to repair U.S. ties.

But the three opposition parties teamed up to force the inquiry after a spate of media reports alleging that two German agents in Baghdad helped the United States launch its invasion, including by picking out bombing targets.

Questions for the inquiry include whether ministers or officials knew and approved of the handing of information to the Americans, and of the details that were passed on.

Among those who may face pressure are Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who at the time was chief of staff and intelligence coordinator under Merkel's predecessor, Social Democrat Gerhard Schroeder.

The issue is controversial in Germany because public opinion strongly opposed the Iraq war.

Schroeder, won an election in 2002 on the back of his public opposition to any military "adventure" in Iraq.

Merkel's conservative-Social Democrat coalition government has acknowledged that some intelligence from the two agents was passed on to the United States, including information on the Iraqi police and military presence in Baghdad.

But it says they played no role in selecting bombing targets, except to warn the Americans against hitting civilian sites such as hospitals.

Merkel herself is not under fire because her party was in opposition at the time. But by keeping the Iraq war in the headlines, the inquiry could hinder her efforts to turn over a new leaf in relations with Washington, which were badly strained by Schroeder's opposition to the invasion.