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Home > Media Reiews > Weekly Review Last Updated: 14:58 03/09/2007
Weekly Review #139: August 2, 2004

Japanese reconstruction effort in Iraq could be plagued by inflated expectations

John de Boer (Japan Fellow, Stanford University; Research Associate, GLOCOM)

In the absence of concrete and detailed information about what the Japanese Self-Defense Forces are actually doing in Iraq, a disturbing report has surfaced voicing sentiments of frustration and disappointment toward Japan's work in and around Samawah, the capital of Iraq's Muthana province. It was the Kyodo News that picked up on statements issued by the top official of the governing council of Iraq's Muthana province, Ahmed Marzoq. In a recent interview given to the Kyodo News, Marzoq said that the assistance from the Japanese SDF "is significantly below our expectations." He went on to state that, "the activities [that the SDF is undertaking] are not that of a country with advanced technologies. The type of aid Japan should be providing is infrastructure development such as electricity and water supplies as well as building factories. If it is just simple work like renovating schools and buildings, we would like to flatly turn them down." (Kyodo, "Japan's aid mission in Iraq very disappointing: local head", July 25, 2004). The Japanese government promptly dismissed the report.

If this report is true, what should concern the Japanese government most about Marzoq's statement is the degree to which this sentiment extends beyond Marzoq. Does his "disappointment" represent the dominant assessment of the governing council of Muthana Province? Has this sentiment permeated into the general populace of Samawah, Muthana Province and Iraq? Reports that Muthana Governor, Mohammed Ali Hassan was also quoted by an Iraqi daily as saying that he was "disappointed with Japan" is additional reason for worry.

Criticisms will always exist and certainly Japan cannot be expected to dramatically reverse the state of devastation faced by many, if not the majority, of Iraqi's today. However, Japan must be seen as engaging in projects that matter most to Iraqis. Marzoq's statements in the interview given to the Kyodo News indicate that Japan's contributions up until now are not meeting this criterion. Marzoq noted that, "we [the governing council] made many proposals regarding reconstruction and the GSDF promised to adopt them, but there has been no progress at all."

There are at least two factors that have contributed to this sentiment. Firstly, Japanese troops in Iraq are operating under legal constraints that impinge on their mobility in the area. Considering the violence witnessed in and around Samawah over the past month or so, the GSDF has been unable to engage in significant reconstruction work. As such, significant environmental constraints have limited Japan's ability to contribute. Secondly, although Japan has been more forthcoming with funds and more active than most countries in promoting human welfare in Iraq, the expectation level among Iraqi's toward Japan's contribution may simply be too high.

Regarding the second point, it must be remembered that the GSDF is working within the framework originally outlined by the Bush administration which painted the coalition as liberators and created a belief that the invasion of Iraq and the ousting of Saddam would bring prosperity and justice to Iraq in the short term. Not only did U.S. cabinet members speak of a quick, surgical strike, they also argued that the occupation would pay for itself through Iraqi oil revenues.

More pertinent, in terms of expectation levels for Japan, was the oft repeated and misplaced analogy between post-Saddam Iraq and occupied Japan (1945-1952). Although, historians of Japan have rejected this comparison frequently, the Japanese government has never publicly dismissed or at minimum questioned this analogy. In fact, certain top Japanese officials have served to promote this expectation. Shigeru Ishiba, the Director General of Japan's Defense Agency, was quoted by Kyodo News on 24 March 2004 as stating that, "I believe that Iraq, where there are abundant resources and brilliant people, will be able to achieve development surpassing that of Japan." The free distribution of the NHK produced Project X series to a Lebanese satellite station transmitting into Iraq, which chronicles Japan's rise from the ashes and features fascinating breakthroughs in the field of science and technology, may also be contributing to the impression that Japanese are miracle workers (for more on this see Weekly Review No. 131). Out of sight in this representation is the loss of human life, the tremendous amount of hard work that went into reordering and rebuilding society and industry, as well as the starvation and illness that many Japanese suffered for years under occupation before achieving affluence.

If Marzoq's statements are as untrue as the Japanese government is making them out to be, it is plausible to consider that disingenuous ideas about what the Japanese can do in Iraq has created a climate of frustration. Certainly, this sentiment has primarily been motivated by the daily violence and conflict that plagues the country and impacts individual lives in profound ways. As a consequence, much hope for reconstruction and prosperity in the near future has been dashed. Powerful individuals such as Marzoq and Hassan, who are supposed to be part of this reconstruction effort, are now placing some of the blame on Japan. I would argue that one reason for this might be due to the high expectations that were created in advance of Japan's arrival. In order to counter this, the Japanese government would be well advised to educate both Iraqis and the U.S. administration as to the truth about Japan's reconstruction and as to the analogy's inapplicability to the situation in Iraq. Furthermore, it should reevaluate the projects currently being undertaken by the GSDF to ensure that their efforts are being dedicated to what Iraqi's need most.

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