The German Connection

"Germany, one more time for the final solution?" For many Jews who stood on a street in war-rattled Tel Aviv last week, the words on a demonstrator's placard contained the ring of bitter truth. German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher was visiting Israel to express his country's solidarity with the Jewish state, promising $166 million in humanitarian aid. But his offer was overshadowed by mounting Israeli outrage over the role that German firms played in building Iraq's arsenal. "The Germans killed my parents, and now they're helping Saddam Hussein," one woman protester wailed, joined by a throng of Israelis clad in gas masks and concentration-camp suits. "I hate the Germans."

During the 1980s, West German commercial interests were hardly alone as major suppliers of Saddam's war machine. Encouraged by their governments, which saw Iraq as a necessary counterbalance to fundamentalist Iran, contractors from France, Italy, Britain and other Western nations flooded Iraq with $13.4 billion worth of military equipment between 1982 and 1989. Several U.S. firms provided Iraq with technology for chemical and biological warfare. But German contributions have taken on a chilling resonance because they recall so powerfully the country's Nazi past. German companies built Saddam's underground bunker, reminiscent of Hitler's Berlin sanctuary, and provided him with chemical-weapons components such as hydrogen cyanide, a key ingredient in Zyklon-B, the gas used at Auschwitz. German technicians jumped on the "Bund"wagon, redesigning Iraq's Scud missiles to enable them to reach Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The revelations are embarrassing to the Bonn government, which last week announced a program to tighten already tough export regulations. That hardly satisfied opposition party members, who for years have complained about government negligence in allowing the deadly exports in the first place. A lot of popular rage has been aimed at German companies that built up Saddam's lethal arsenal. "German weapons, German money, German murderers all over the world," declared one poster at an antiwar rally in Bonn last weekend attended by 200,000 people.

At the same time, demonstrations caused some to question whether the country has embraced pacifism and isolationism instead of responsible participation in world affairs. The government of Chancellor Helmut Kohl was singled out for criticism by the allies for waffling over Germany's obligation to defend Turkey in case of attack by Iraq. "Within NATO," said Germany's conservative Bild newspaper, "German influence is melting like butter."

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Revelations of its involvement in Iraq have worsened Germany's image abroad. The most lurid was the description in the German press of Saddam's "fuhrerbunker," a five-star hotel for the nuclear age. In 1981 Saddam hired a Dusseldorf firm, Boswau-Knauer AG, to build the structure. Says Georg Niedermeier, chairman of the German firm Walter-Thosti-Boswau, which later purchased the construction company: "Saddam had a lot to be worried about in those days."

While the construction of Saddam's bunker was legal, other projects allegedly fell outside the law. Managers of two German companies have been charged by prosecutors with supplying Iraq with materials for the construction of what authorities say are two chemical-weapons plants thought to produce nerve gas. (One company claims that its plant made only pesticides.) Last year German authorities warned the United States that the plants could also produce high-concentrate hydrocyanic acid, capable of burning through gas-mask filters; the tip prompted a redesign of the American and British chemical-warfare suits.

Chemicals were not the only German-supplied weapons in Iraq's inventory. The Vienna biweekly Profil reports that the firm Plato-Kuhn sold Iraq a mushroom-based "superpoison" in 1986. The company says it had an export license and didn't know what the deadly substance was to be used for. Meanwhile, German firms may still be dealing with Saddam. The United States gave Bonn a list of 50 companies suspected of violating the U.N. embargo imposed on Aug. 6. Criminal investigations are underway, and Economics Minister Jurgen Mollemann said last week that guilty firms "should be treated like those who commit murder." As the gulf war drags on, one lasting casualty may be the reunited Germany's international reputation.

FRANCE ITALY Nuclear technology Biological-warfare Air-to-air missiles technology Antiship missiles Chemical-warfare tech Antitank missiles Antiship missiles Antiaircraft missiles Ship-to-air missiles Fighter planes Armored vehicles WEST GERMANY Nuclear technology SOVIET UNION Biological-warfare tech Missiles Chemical-warfare tech Missile craft Ground-attack aircraft UNITED STATES Fighter planes Biological-warfare tech Armored personnel cars Chemical-warfare tech Main battle tanks

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Sources: International Institute For Strategic Studies;

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute

The German Connection | News