The German government's claim that it did nothing substantial to support the Iraq war appeared to be in tatters yesterday, after evidence came to light that its agents supplied the US military with key Iraqi defence plans before the country was invaded.
An explosive report, published in yesterday's New York Times and based on a dossier compiled by the US Joint Forces Command, disclosed that in February 2003, German intelligence agents supplied the US military with details of Saddam Hussein's plans to defend Baghdad.
The Iraqi defence plan was unveiled at a meeting of senior Iraqi commanders in December 2002.
It included plans to mass troops in defensive rings around the capital, and to form a last-ditch "red line" of Republican Guard troops who were ordered to hold out to the end.
The report said a German intelligence officer based in Qatar passed a copy of the Iraqi defence plan and a sketch of the operation to an official of the US Defence Intelligence Agency, a month before American troops entered Iraq.
The US dossier was cited as noting that the sketch of the Iraqi defences was "provided to the Germans by one of their sources in Baghdad".
The report's findings came as an acute embarrassment to Chancellor Angela Merkel's government, which has repeatedly insisted that Germany did nothing substantial to support America in the run up to the invasion of Iraq.
Ms Merkel's predecessor, the former Social Democrat Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, vehemently opposed the US invasion. Mr Schröder's opposition to the war was regarded as a key factor in securing his re-election as Chancellor in the autumn of 2002.
Yesterday's disclosures also appeared to directly contradict the findings of a new German government report on the extent of its Iraq-based agents' collaboration with US intelligence.
The report, released last week in response to a series of leaks about alleged German-US secret service complicity, concluded that German agents had supplied only limited information to the US, which was designed to prevent civilian targets from being bombed.
It said that German agents had provided their US colleagues with information on "civilian protected or other humanitarian sites" and "descriptions in isolated cases of Iraqi military forces along with geographical co-ordinates." But it made no mention of a Baghdad defence plan.
The German government's initial reaction to the disclosures yesterday was to deny them outright. "This account is wrong," said Ulrich Wilhelm, the government's chief spokesman, in response to the suggestion that two Iraq-based German agents had passed on a Baghdad defence plan to the Americans.
But Mr Wilhelm, who was obliged to rely on the findings of the German government's own report for answers, was unable to say whether other German intelligence agents had delivered the plan to the United States. "This is a question that I cannot answer just like that," he said.
Elsewhere, the report's disclosures provoked a shocked response from both government and opposition MPs. "I nearly fell out of my chair," said Max Stadler, a senior member of the opposition liberal Free Democratic Party. "If this report is true, then the situation is far more dramatic than we thought," he added.
The allegations against intelligence service
* NOVEMBER 2005
German newspapers cite a top US intelligence official who alleges the German government supplied its air bases for the use of CIA 'renditions' flights.
* DECEMBER 2005
Chancellor Angela Merkel's first meeting with US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice since taking office. The Berlin meeting is overshadowed by CIA flights row and the CIA abduction of German Khaled al-Masri, who was mistaken for a terrorist. Rice admits abduction was a mistake but defends CIA activities.
* JANUARY 2006
German media reports that German intelligence agents in Baghdad supplied the US with information about bombing targets in the run up to the Iraq war. The German government insists the agents only provided information about sites that should not be bombed.
* FEBRUARY 23, 2006
German government provides MPs with a report on its intelligence agents' activities in Iraq prior to the war. The report rules out that German agents provided military information to the Americans. The report also contains unpublished information about alleged CIA flights. MPs claim report fails to answer claims German agents were used over US renditions.
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