Public Debate Should Have Taken Place Prior to Extension of SDF Mission in Iraq
John de Boer (Japan Fellow, Stanford University; Research Associate, GLOCOM)
The Koizumi administration has chosen to extend its "military" presence in Iraq. According to government sources, the mission has been a success. Thus far, the Japanese contingent has been able to avoid casualties and the Koizumi administration argues that Japan's "putting boots on the ground" has increased its credibility worldwide and promoted stability and hope in Iraq.
Unfortunately, as committed as Japanese troops may be to improving humanitarian conditions in Samawa, the 550 members of the contingent have been largely confined to their barracks and unable to devote themselves to their mission. According to a former Japanese commander quoted in the New York Times, his troops did not leave their base for half of August (Norimitsu Onishi, Dec. 2, 2004).
Despite desperate and violent conditions, Japanese government officials continue to insist that Samawa is a "non combat zone." Japan's foreign minister, Nobutaka Machimura has even gone on record to state that Japan does not consider Falluja to be a combat zone because "insurgents do not represent a nation"! This despite the fact that thousands of Iraqi's and US troops have been killed in this notoriously embattled city. Statements such as these by senior Japanese officials are more then worrisome. While this mode of denial may coincide with sentiments expressed by Bush administration officials who continue to insist that Iraq is being transformed into a bulwark for democracy and that Iraqi hearts are being won over, it indicates utter ignorance of the situation on the ground. That officials so out of touch with reality in Iraq are in charge of the lives of 550 Japanese soldiers is alarming.
Scattered reports on the activities of Japanese troops in Iraq are not encouraging. Local Iraqi officials and residents in Samawa have started to voice disappointment toward the lack of progress that they are seeing in their communities. Originally, welcomed with cheers and high expectations, the Self Defense Forces have done little to improve the situation on the ground. Today, no Japanese media agencies are in the area to cover SDF activities in Samawa making access to "independent" news virtually impossible. All news must come through government sources. In essence, no body knows exactly what Japanese troops are really doing in Iraq.
While Japanese prime minister Koizumi seems to have benefited politically as a result of committing Japanese troops, particularly vis-à-vis his relationship with the US, Iraqis are growing increasingly disillusioned with the grandeur visions promoted by Japanese politicians who promised clean water, electricity, jobs and economic prosperity. The morale of troops who were commissioned and have been rendered unable to fulfill these expectations is also a likely suffering and they must be alarmed by the ignorance and irrationality exhibited by their government's refusal to recognize even the most conflictive areas as non-combat zones. All evidence and visible realities indicate that the Japanese government needs to reevaluate its role in Iraq before it extends the SDF mission. As a government responsible for the lives of its troops and accountable for its collaboration in the occupation, a public debate should have been undertaken before a decision was made to extend the SDF's mission in Iraq.