Closing the Rift

Germany's steadfast opposition to the Iraq war led to a division within Europe and a new ice age with the Bush administration in Washington. One year later, wounds have (mostly) been healed.

On the day before the military invasion of Iraq began last year, anti-war opponents in the United Nations Security Council were giving speeches beseeching the Bush administration to reconsider their march toward war.

"To those who think that the scourge of terrorism will be eradicated through what is done in Iraq, we say that they run the risk of failing in their objective," said French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin on March 19, 2003, whose country was among the most vocal opponents of the Iraq war.

One year since the start of the invasion and one week after one of the worst terrorist attacks in European history, de Villepin's statement seems to hold up. Following the bombing of four trains that killed more than 200 people in Madrid eight days ago, Spain voted out the popular party of Prime Minister Jose Aznar, one of Washington's closest allies.

In his place is a social democrat prime minister who has promised to pull Spain's 1,300 troops out of Iraq. Fearing terrorist attacks, the government of Poland, which heads a 9,000-troop multinational force in Iraq, initially joined Spain in considering an Iraq pull-out.

Last year, Italy, Poland, Spain and the U.K. were the United States' closest allies in the looming invasion of Iraq. Their support divided the European Union, opening deep wounds in the 15 member bloc that have only recently begun to heal.

Looking forward, not back

Germany, like anti-war opponent France, has done a lot to patch up its ties with Washington. In September 2002, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder fell foul of the Bush administration when he rode his opposition to the Iraq war to campaign victory.

Rather than abandon his position after his re-election, Schöder's government stood by its anti-war stance, pleading in the U.N. Security Council that the United States and Great Britain give U.N. weapons inspectors more time to search for Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

A year later, vast stores of weapons of mass destruction have yet to be found, and coalition forces in Iraq are suffering heavy casualties in a guerrilla war with Islamic Jihadists. But Schröder has gone out of his way to disperse any notions that Germany feels justified in its Iraq opposition.

"We have to talk about the present and the future now," he said at a joint White House press conference with President George W. Bush on Feb. 27 this year. "We both have a great interest in seeing a stable and democratic Iraq develop."

Training of Iraqi police officers

The Feb. 27 marked the final stages of a return to normalcy in a German-American relationship thrown off-track by divisions over the Iraq war. On his trip to the White House, Schröder mentioned several olive branches Berlin had extended to the Bush administration in an effort to bridge the Iraq divide.

German police have already begun training the first 150 Iraqi police officers in the United Arab Emirates. The government is also mulling ways to forgive Iraq debt and increase the economic aid it wants to pour into the war-torn country.

But Berlin continues to rule out any deployment of German soldiers on Iraqi soil, even under a NATO mandate.

"We have absolutely no plans to send the military, the Bundeswehr into Iraq," German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer has said.

Germany better off through anti-war stance

The stance is one that has come under criticism from opposition politicians, who supported America's military invasion of Iraq one year ago. The Christian Democratic Union has said the Schröder government shouldn't rule out sending soldiers into the war-torn country.

Government Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul criticized the opposition in an interview Friday, saying that had they listened to the CDU "there would be German soldiers in Iraq today, and they would also be victims. And we would have to have spent billions of Euros on this war."


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