German Help for Iraq?

Once upon a time, Herodotus recounts, a solar eclipse prevented a war between Sparta and the Persians. The war came anyway, but later. For it was not peace that the wonder foretold, but rather a catastrophe so great that even such a weighty day-to-day matter as war had to be deferred.

In the meanwhile, the signs that are used to predict the fortunes of the countries of the Middle East have become more modern in character. But it remains the case that they can sometimes foretell things even worse than war. In antiquity, coming misfortune was foretold by meteorites, cloud formations, and human deformities. In today's Iraq, it is foretold by the appearance in rapid succession of Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Peter Gauweiler, and Herta Däubler-Gmelin. They are, respectively, the German foreign minister, an influential member of the Bundestag's Foreign Affairs Committee, and the chair of the Bundestag's Human Rights Committee. All three have in common that they were prominent opponents of the Iraq War. In his previous capacity as chief of staff to former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, Steinmeier is indeed widely believed to have been the éminence grise who plotted the Schröder government's anti-war course. While minister of justice under Schröder, Däubler-Gmelin famously compared George Bush to Adolf Hitler on account of his Iraq War plans. And Gauweiler has merely accused Americans of wanting to "exterminate" other cultures "like they did with the Apache and Sioux." Gauweiler is a member of the Bavarian sister party of Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democrats. The last time he was in Iraq was in early March 2003 -- to pray for God's intervention to prevent an American invasion of the country.

The misfortune that the appearance of the Germans on the Iraqi horizon portends is a return to what was once normalcy in Iraq, before Saddam Hussein and his Baathist regime were overthrown against the German objections. According to a report on Steinmeier's visit in the German daily the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the foreign minister came offering "economic aid": "above all, a matter of infrastructure." And Germany has indeed a tradition of exporting "infrastructure" to the Middle East, though it is seldom as harmless as it sounds. In Iraq at the beginning of the 1980s, Germany helped to build two chemical factories for the "state pesticide program" in Fallujah and Samarrah. The factories produced the chemical agents with which the Iraqi army would later bomb Kurdish cities and towns in the north of the country. German construction companies built bunkers and advised the regime on how to disguise "relevant installations." The machines and materials supplied to Iraq by a medium-sized firm in the Münster area were also counted as "infrastructure." These were used to transform Soviet-made scud missiles into the Iraqi Al-Hussein missiles, with a range sufficient to reach Israel.

During the last six years, the German government did nothing that could have contributed to peace and reconstruction in Iraq. Even the €1.5 billion of "bilateral development aid" for Iraq listed in last year's German budget is in fact an accounting trick. What the sum actually represents is partial debt relief to which German reluctantly agreed as part of a joint decision of the Paris Club. Apart from that, Germany's Iraq policy has largely consisted of prophesying the country's doom and blaming America when the prophecy appeared to be coming true.