Elite officials missing in Iraq

Posted in Europe | 16-Apr-04 | Author: William Pratt| Source: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Two members of anti-terror force possibly ambushed on way to embassy in Baghdad

German leaders in Berlin have been haunted by one chilling question since April 7: What happened to two members of the country's elite anti-terror force who were traveling through violent Iraq on their way to Baghdad?

“We still do not know for sure what has become of the two missing officials,“ Antje Leendertse, a spokeswoman for the German Foreign Ministry, said on Wednesday.

But that is not the way the men's colleagues see it. They said they were certain that the men were killed in an ambush, the victims of the violence swirling around the Iraqi city of Falluja. “It was clear to us early on that we were futilely hoping that the news from Iraq would be wrong,“ one member of the elite force said in a wire service interview this week. “All of us are stunned and shaken.“

The two missing men, one 25 and the other 38, are members of an organization called GSG 9. The terrorist-fighting unit was created after a group of Palestinians seized Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich and began a bloody chain of events in which 11 athletes, five terrorists and one police officer were killed.

The men were traveling from the Jordanian capital of Amman to Baghdad on April 7 as part of a convoy of German diplomats and intelligence officials. They were to replace colleagues who had done their tour at the German Embassy as security personnel. Reports about their possible death began appearing over the extended Easter weekend. One television report quoted people who identified themselves as witnesses as saying that the men's vehicle had been ambushed. It added that a fresh grave had been discovered near the site.

In an effort to find the bodies, an Iraqi aid group sent representatives to the Ramadi area on Thursday. Fares Hamed, the general secretary of the Iraqi Red Crescent, told a news service that the representatives planned to talk to local clan leaders in the effort.

In Berlin, a spokesman said on Wednesday that German Interior Minister Otto Schily had ordered an investigation into the incident. And the spokesman, Rainer Lingenthal, said the results would be presented to the Interior Committee of the German Parliament.

Even before the report was completed, members of the opposition were applying pressure to the coalition government, led by the Social Democrats and Greens. “The federal government will have to answer a number of questions,“ said Bernd Schmidbauer, a Christian Democrat who once led Germany's intelligence community. Schmidbauer was quoted in the newspaper Augsburger Allgemeine on Thursday as saying that one of the most pressing questions was why the convoy did not have protection from U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq.

Another member of the Christian Democrats, Wolfgang Bosbach, raised two more questions: Why did the security officials travel by land and were there any alternatives available? “The area around Falluja is widely known as being a hot bed of rebellion,“ Bosbach told the newspaper Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger.
Anticipating such questions, Lingenthal said the route had been used 25 times without incident. He also said the officials could not have flown because of their security equipment.

The incident occurred at a time when some members of the Christian Democrats are beginning to rethink their support of the U.S. effort in Iraq. Friedbert Pflüger said last week that certain issues “make it necessary to talk about whether we were right in our assessments.“

Former party chairman Wolfgang Schäuble followed Pflüger's statement with a word of support for the coalition, which opposed the U.S.-led war. “Right now, I don't feel that the thing is very successful,“ he said.