WASHINGTON, March 23, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- France and Germany were conspicuously absent from U.S. President George W. Bush's military coalition that invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003.
Relations between Washington and two of its strongest allies got so bad that Bush reportedly would not even accept telephone calls from then German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. And some members of Congress were so incensed that they had the Capitol's kitchen rename its French-fried potatoes "freedom fries."
Yet "The New York Times" reported on February 27 that about a month before the invasion began, German agents in Iraq gave the United States details of Hussein's plan for the defense of Baghdad, as well as specifications of the city's fortifications.
Then this week came a report from the NBC television network and "The Times" on March 21 and 22, respectively. They said it was the French intelligence agency that brokered a deal three years ago making then Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri a paid CIA source.Aliies Through Thick And Thin
If true, was such assistance to Washington a contradiction of the antiwar stand taken by the governments of France and Germany?
Not really, according to Anthony Cordesman, a former intelligence analyst with the U.S. departments of State and Defense. Cordesman says most governments draw a line between current government policy and longstanding cooperation with allies.
"You don't basically swing this intelligence cooperation around every major issue."
"Intelligence cooperation developed with our European allies and many other countries over the entire period of the Cold War," he says. "It hasn't broken down since then. It's never been perfect, but governments have always concluded that sharing intelligence can be separated from policy because no one has a monopoly on this knowledge."
For example, Cordesman says, there are times when the United States receives very valuable intelligence from all over the world -- including some countries with which it has strained relations -- based on agents that otherwise would be unavailable to U.S. spy agencies.
Likewise, the United States reciprocates by sharing with these countries data that only it can get, primarily through what Cordesman calls "high-technology assets" such as satellite reconnaissance programs.
To do otherwise, Cordesman says, would be to shatter the trust that is essential in an alliance.
"You don't basically swing this intelligence cooperation around every major issue," he says. "In fact, if you start that process it becomes almost impossible for countries to trust each other. So the fact that a country will take a strong policy stand doesn't mean that it won't provide us with intelligence, and because we may have a major political issue with another country, that doesn't mean we won't help them on a critical issue like counterterrorism or counterproliferation or all of the other areas."Key Intelligence
Retired U.S. Army Colonel Kenneth Allard, who served as an intelligence officer in Europe during the Cold War, agrees. As he puts it, the lasting relationships between allies are always more important than transitory policy differences.
Furthermore, Allard says, it appears the intelligence offered by France and Germany was helpful. In fact, he says the intelligence about the Baghdad fortifications that the Germans shared with the Americans must have been particularly valuable. He recalls seeing Baghdad's fortifications on a visit to Iraq.
"Because they [Germany] helped build them, they had a fairly precise knowledge of Saddam's bunker system and the defenses right around Baghdad," he says. "In some cases the building was ingenious, and it reminded me of a lot of stuff I'd seen in both Berlin and various parts of [the former] West Germany -- the 'fuehrerbunkers.' You could tell that someone who knew what they were doing with fortifications had constructed the place -- not Iraqis."
As for France, Allard says any of its contributions from Iraq would be welcome, given France's history in the region.
"Don't forget, they [the French] had a long, historical relationship with Iraq," he says "There were two countries probably closest to Iraq over the long term, and those two countries were France and Russia. It means a wealth of business contacts, financial contacts -- other contacts. Britain takes that place for a lot of Arab countries, even to this day -- even to this day -- Switzerland does for some others, and France did, very importantly, for Iraq."
As good as the French may have been as sources, however, it's not clear whether Sabri's reported contributions made much of a difference.
According to "The New York Times," he told the CIA that Hussein didn't have a significant weapons program. The United States invaded Iraq three years ago citing what it called Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
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