Germany in rethink on Iraq force deployment

By Hugh Williamson and Gerrit Wiesmann in Berlin

Financial Times

Published: October 13 2004

Germany might deploy troops in Iraq if conditions there change, Peter Struck, the German defence minister, indicated on Tuesday in a gesture that appears to provide backing for John Kerry, the US Democratic presidential challenger.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Struck departed from his governments resolve not to send troops to Iraq under any circumstances, saying: At present I rule out the deployment of German troops in Iraq. In general, however, there is no one who can predict developments in Iraq in such a way that he could make a such a binding statement [about the future].

Mr Struck also welcomed Mr Kerrys proposal that he would convene an international conference on Iraq including countries that opposed the war if he were to win next month's election.

Germany would certainly attend, Mr Struck said. This is a very sensible proposal. The situation in Iraq can only be cleared up when all those involved sit together at one table. Germany has taken on responsibilities in Iraq, including financial ones; this would naturally justify our involvement in such a conference.

Berlin has refused to comment on the outcome of the US election, but Mr Struck's comments are significant as Mr Kerry has argued that he would be able to draw in countries to work in Iraq that opposed the war. Gerhard Schröder, the German chancellor, was a leading opponent of the US-led Iraq war and his re-election in 2002 was secured in part on support for this stance.

Mr Struck and other German officials said developments in Iraq meant the position over troops was under constant review, noting that Berlin was already providing financial assistance to Iraq and training Iraqi troops and police officers in the United Arab Emirates.

A senior official said: When the situation in Iraq changes, when elections have been held, or there are other developments, then we will make decisions on this basis. If a democratically-elected Iraqi government were to ask the UN for support, the international community, including Germany, must be in a position to respond, the official added.

Mr Struck said Germany's attendance at the conference proposed by Mr Kerry did not mean Berlin would immediately deploy troops. Analysts in Berlin argue that a Kerry victory would increase pressure on Germany to step up its involvement in Iraq, even though public opinion is still firmly against the US role in Iraq and against any heightened German engagement.

Mr Struck said he could envisage Germany making a larger political contribution to stability in the [Middle East] region, building on mediation efforts in recent years by Joschka Fischer, foreign minister, regarding Israel and the Palestinians.

Germany announced last month a shipment of 20 armoured vehicles to the Iraqi military, as part of Berlin's increased involvement in Nato-led reconstruction efforts there.