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German Agents Maintained Contacts with Saddam's Secret Service During Iraq War

Monday, Sept. 22, 2008

Last Thursday, two agents of the German foreign intelligence service, the BND, who had been stationed in Baghdad during the Iraq War in 2003 testified before the intelligence oversight committee of the German Bundestag. The purpose of the hearing was to determine what exactly they were doing in Baghdad at the time and, above all, whether the information they reported back to BND headquarters in Pullach could in turn have been used by American military command. The latter possibility is regarded as controversial in Germany and has previously been reported as established fact by the New York Times. (The Times report is based on a classified document allegedly obtained by the paper under conspiratorial circumstances and hence is inherently unverifiable.) The Bundestag hearing on Thursday did not resolve this question. It did, however, reveal something else: namely, that the two agents - identified in media reports merely as "Rainer M." and "Volker H." - were in contact with the Iraqi secret service, which approved of their presence in Baghdad.

Thus, Peter Carstens, writing in the Friday edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, notes that the two men had continued their work in Baghdad even after the security situation clearly deteriorated:

After all, they have good relations with the Iraqi intelligence service, with which they are even officially registered -- at least as concerns part of their mission. For a time the contact to the Iraqis breaks off, but then the Iraqi contact officer turns up again. He was worried about his German colleagues, he says. As for the latter, what they see [in their Iraqi colleague] is that the regime is close to its end: "His usually neat appearance has suffered," M. notes. They are happy to have reestablished contact to the Iraqi secret service, which obviously is tolerating the German activities. Why that is so, the files don't say.

Or perhaps they do. As Carstens likewise notes, "Much in the committee's files has been redacted, with comments like 'blacked out for the good of the state [Schwarzung wegen Staatswohls].'"

Carsten's interjection that "at least part" of the agents' mission was registered with the Iraqis is clearly spin. The actual information he reports is that the two agents were in Baghdad with the knowledge and approval of the Iraqi regime. What the Iraqis may or may not have known about the agents' precise activities is a different matter.

The fact that German BND agents were cooperating with the Iraqi secret services will not come as a surprise to those familiar with the BND's history. Already in January 2006, German intelligence expert Erich Schmidt-Eenboom noted that during the Iraq War the BND "undoubtedly maintained its very good contacts with the intelligence service of Saddam Hussein." "At the same time," Schmidt-Eenboom added, "it was under pressure, in the context of a political ice age between Washington and Berlin, not to let its contacts with the Defense Intelligence Agency completely die out" (source: Interview with the Berlin weekly Jungle World). In April 2003, moreover, the British daily The Telegraph published an Iraqi document detailing a cordial January 2002 meeting between a representative of German intelligence and Iraqi intelligence chief Tahir Jalil Habbush.

It is indicative of the general tenor of the discussion of the Iraq War in Germany that while sharing information with American military intelligence would be regarded as scandalous, the admission of friendly contacts with Saddam Hussein's infamous Mukhabarat is the subject of no controversy whatsoever.