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Last Updated: Friday, 20 January 2006, 15:45 GMT
German spies' Iraq role defended
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier
Mr Steinmeier denies that German spies helped choose targets
The German foreign minister has strongly defended two German intelligence agents whose role in the Iraq war has been questioned by MPs.

In a heated parliamentary debate, Frank-Walter Steinmeier dismissed claims that the agents had helped the US military to select bombing targets.

The agents had given "no support for the pursuit of war", he said.

Opposition parties are pushing for an inquiry into the role of German intelligence in the 2003 Iraq war.

A decision on whether to hold such an inquiry has been put off until next week, the BBC's Ray Furlong in Berlin says.

The passionate parliamentary debate reflects the fact that the Iraq war is still haunting German political life, our correspondent says.

Suggestions of a German role in the war have caused concern, especially because of the country's strong opposition to the US-led invasion.

Parliament 'deceived'

Mr Steinmeier cut short a tour of the Middle East to take part in the debate in the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag.

In a speech to MPs, he said the agents of the German intelligence service, the BND, remained in Baghdad during the hostilities merely to keep the government in Berlin informed.

He also repeated the government view that there was no need for an inquiry.

Mr Steinmeier was one of the closest aides of the then-Social Democrat (SPD) Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder.

However, opposition MPs suggested that Mr Schroeder's government deceived parliament over the matter.

They also pointed to recent allegations that German intelligence agents had interrogated prisoners held in Syria and Guantanamo Bay - saying an inquiry into BND activities was necessary.

The case of a German man allegedly kidnapped by the CIA and claims that Berlin allowed CIA planes to use German airports to fly terror suspects to secret prisons for interrogation were also raised as a further subject for scrutiny.

Together, the opposition - the Free Democratic Party, Greens and Left Party - do have enough votes to force an inquiry over the issue. But it is not clear whether they can agree on a united front, our correspondent says.

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