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Iraq: Germany Still Undecided On Postwar Reconstruction Role

  • Roland Eggleston

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who opposes the war in Iraq, says it is too early to decide whether Germany will assist in the postwar reconstruction of the country. However, he has promised that government and independent relief agencies will provide humanitarian aid. The first shipments left Hamburg today.

Munich, 27 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has said several times this week that it is too early to decide whether Germany will participate in the postwar reconstruction of Iraq. In his comments to journalists, he has made clear he does not want a debate on the matter at this time.

Schroeder is under pressure from two opposing sides to take a clear position. On the one hand, major German construction firms want a commitment that Germany will join the reconstruction program. They hope to share in the rebuilding of roads, bridges, and water supplies and other projects.

On the other hand, several members of Schroeder's government, led by Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, reject a German role in reconstruction. They argue publicly that the United States should bear the costs of postwar reconstruction because it caused much of the damage.

Schroeder is equally evasive when asked whether Germany supports France and others who believe the United Nations -- not the United States -- should govern Iraq after the war.

Yesterday, Schroeder was asked directly whether Germany would contribute troops to a possible UN peacekeeping force in Iraq. He replied that there was no reason to debate such matters at this time. "There is absolutely no point in discussing now what could happen in Iraq after the war. Germany has always respected its international commitments -- everyone knows that from other situations. That was the case and that will remain the case.," Schroeder said.

Schroeder has said previously that Germany will not help pay the costs of the war as it did after the 1991 Gulf War, when it contributed about $13 billion. At that time the money was considered compensation for Germany's nonparticipation in the war to drive Iraq out of Kuwait. Schroeder has said that his government will not be a part of what he calls a "checkbook war."

However, the Foreign Ministry says Germany is participating in talks in Brussels this week with U.S. Undersecretary of State Alan Larson. Larson is trying to win European support for an international plan for the reconstruction of Iraq. According to him, it could be modeled on the international program to help Afghanistan. The European Union was the largest single donor at last year's Tokyo conference on aid to Afghanistan, and Larsen says he hopes for similar support from the EU now.

German business leaders make no secret of their desire to share in reconstruction projects. The United States has said that major contracts will be awarded to American firms, but companies in other countries can expect to be awarded subcontracts. France, which also opposes the war, is also hoping to share in some reconstruction projects. U.S. experts estimate reconstruction could cost from $25 billion to $100 billion.

While hesitating about joining the reconstruction program, the Schroeder government is going ahead with humanitarian aid. It has pledged an initial package worth around $50 million for emergency relief in Iraq, to be distributed by the Red Cross, the UN refugee agency, and the World Food Program. It is also contributing to European Union aid programs.

The first two trucks carrying German humanitarian aid to Iraq left Hamburg today. One is carrying medicines, bedding, and food provided by an independent relief organization, and the other a water treatment plant provided by the German Red Cross. The transport was organized by Gudrun Lehmbeck, who was part of a relief team that went to Kuwait after the 1991 Gulf War.

"If it's like it was then [in 1991], we'll have refugee camps with 100,000, or 200,000, or even 300,000 refugees. We expect to find undernourished children, we expect to find infants who look like old men, and we expect many, many victims. I can only say I hope that that this scenario from 1991 will not be repeated," Lehmbeck said.

A German Red Cross official, Bernd Edelhof, said the water treatment plant on the second truck was urgently needed in Iraq. He said it was capable of providing clean water for about 20,000 to 30,000 people each day.

Neither Lehmbeck nor Edelhof could say where the aid would be sent. They said that would be decided by officials of the International Red Cross in Iraq.

The Foreign Ministry says about 20 German relief organizations are stockpiling medicines, food, and other necessities for Iraq. Among them is "Deutschland Hilft," which consists of nine separate groups.

A senior official, Heribert Roehrig, estimates that around 10 million Iraqis will need international help. "The initial German focus will be to speed aid to centers such as Baghdad, Mosul, and Basra as soon as the war situation permits," Roehrig said. Later the relief organization will move into other crisis areas. He said that, based on his previous experience, "There will be no shortage of places where our help is needed."