BERLIN - German's security services faced the prospect of a parliamentary inquiry on Friday, triggered by reports that German agents in Baghdad had helped the United States pinpoint bombing targets at the start of the Iraq war.
Despite official denials, the reports have stirred unease in Germany and drawn accusations that the then government of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was secretly aiding the U.S. war effort, while publicly opposing it to win votes.
The opposition Greens said for the first time they would join liberals and leftists to demand an inquiry, into both the Iraq allegations and wider concerns about the role of the security services in the U.S.-led war on terrorism. The three parties between them have enough votes to force such a probe.
"This accusation about the involvement of German authorities in the Iraq war is a monstrous accusation," said Greens parliamentary leader Renate Kuenast.
Media reports on Thursday said two agents of Germany's BND foreign intelligence service in Baghdad had helped the United States identify bombing targets at the outbreak of the Iraq war in 2003, which the Berlin government strongly opposed.
The reports said one agent helped set up a U.S. bombing raid on a Baghdad suburb where Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was thought to be, by driving there and confirming the presence of a convoy of limousines. At least 12 civilians were reported to have died in the raid.
Ernst Uhrlau, who was then the government's intelligence coordinator and now heads the BND, said the reports were false. "We were not involved in tracking down Saddam Hussein," he told Die Welt newspaper.
Government spokesmen told a news briefing the BND had exchanged information with the Americans, but only to identify schools, hospitals and other locations that must not be bombed.
Greens leader Kuenast said that helping the Americans even to identify 'non-targets' was a form of involvement in the war.
"If you don't take part in the war, you can't help with the selection of targets," she said.
The Greens, who were junior coalition partners in Schroeder's government, have previously held back from seeking an inquiry into several controversial incidents which have increased pressure on the security services.
Chief among these is the case of Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen who was secretly flown by the United States to Afghanistan, jailed and interrogated for months as a terrorist suspect before being freed for lack of evidence.
The government has denied allegations that German security agencies passed information to the United States on Masri, who is suing the former head of the CIA for wrongful imprisonment.
"We will propose a committee of inquiry with the task of clearing up everything about el-Masri, but also focusing on the question of involvement in the war in Iraq," Kuenast said.
© Reuters 2006