TCS Daily

Germany's Wake-Up Call?

By Joseph Tom Goeller - December 1, 2005 12:00 AM

BERLIN -- Not an easy start for Angela Merkel. Only a few days after her swearing-in as the new German chancellor, a German citizen was kidnapped in Iraq. A videotape of the abducted woman was delivered to public television broadcaster ARD in Baghdad. It showed her kidnappers demanding that the German government stop cooperating with the Iraqi government otherwise the hostage will be killed.

The kidnapping of 43-year-old archaeologist Susanne Osthoff and her Iraqi driver certainly is a wake up call for all Germans. For the past three years they have fought desperately to stay out of the conflict in Iraq. But the Islamists don't seem to care about that. Again it is made clear what so many pundits in the West deny: the Islamists have declared war on the entire West on 9/11, and the Germans are not exempt.

Germany has no troops in Iraq. But it has been training Iraqi security forces as well as logistics and medical staff in the United Arab Emirates and at German military bases. And it has provided significant funding for building up democratic structures in Iraq. The timing of the kidnapping with the visit of the new German Foreign Minister Walter Steinmeier to the US this past Tuesday is probably not a coincidence. Even though Chancellor Merkel has also ruled out sending troops to Iraq, she has made it clear that she wants to improve relations with Washington and plans to meet President Bush in January.

The German news media quote political experts who speculate that Iraqi insurgents want to scare the new German government or at least send the message to Merkel to follow Schroeder's anti-American course and to not re-establish a better transatlantic partnership. The head of the Institute of Research on Terrorism, Rolf Tophoven, told reporters that the kidnapping of the German woman is "proof that now also Germany is in the cross-hairs of terrorism". Even though Germany "has not been involved in the Iraq war," he added, "Islamists consider Germany as part of the anti-terror alliance."

A special task force has been set up in Berlin, directed by Assistant Secretary of State Klaus Scharioth, who is a crisis expert. According to Merkel, the task force will try to secure the hostages' release. Merkel told the press that her government is talking to authorities in Iraq to help determine the whereabouts of the hostage. After talking to the German intelligence service BND she cautiously said: "At the current state of affairs we have to assume that this is a kidnapping."

Merkel may have not much time to resolve the kidnapping. The television channel ARD said the abductors have imposed a "tight" deadline for their demand to be met, without giving more details.

But Iraqi insurgents will find Merkel to be a tough adversary. She is not the kind of politician Schröder was: concerned more about personal popularity than actual policy. Merkel not only has brought the Schröder era to an end, she even made him even cry in his last days in office. And she got rid of her fiercest opponent within the conservative party bloc, Edmund Stoiber, the governor of Bavaria, who has lost significant influence since Merkel became chancellor.

If the Iraqi insurgents don't release the German hostage or, worse, if they kill her, it will not be a good time to be a Muslim in Germany. As recent polls show, xenophobia is continuously on the rise, basically against Turks and Arabs living in Germany. The kidnapping of a German woman in Iraq is exactly the kind of terrorism that will turn Germans against all Muslims rather than foster sympathy for their alleged goals. If the Iraqi insurgents want to lose the last Western nation that showed a certain understanding for their uprising against the "American invaders", they may have found a way.


TCS Daily Archives