Fri, Aug 22, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Japan rethinks Iraq deployment

SECOND THOUGHTS The bombing of the UN compound in Baghdad has revealed the dangers of life in Iraq and prompted the Japanese to delay plans to send in troops

AFP , TOKYO

The deployment of Japanese troops to Iraq yesterday appeared likely to be delayed after the defense minister said it would be "difficult" to go ahead this year because of the bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad.

Shigeru Ishiba, the director general of the Defense Agency, said late Wednesday the truck bombing had shown Japan's planned humanitarian mission would carry real dangers.

He said this month's planned reconnaissance mission for the deployment -- the first time since World War II that Japanese troops would arrive in an active war zone -- would probably be delayed.

"It will take considerable time to restore security there under this situation," Ishiba told reporters, responding to Tuesday's attack which left 24 people dead including UN envoy to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello.

"It may be possible this year, but it may be difficult [to do so] within the year," Ishiba said, responding to questions about the planned mission.

The deployment of an expected 1,000 Japanese troops had been widely expected to take place as early as November. The reconnaissance mission had been expected to start this month.

"If you look at the current situation, common sense says we cannot send them right away," Ishiba said.

"Even the United Nations, which only provided humanitarian aid and did not use force, has been targeted for attack.

"We now understand it no longer stands that if Japan's Self-Defense Forces (SDF) provide humanitarian aid then they will be safe," he said.

Japan's parliament enacted a law in July endorsing the deployment of SDF to Iraq to provide humanitarian aid and rearguard medical and supply assistance to security forces.

The mass-circulation Asahi newspaper said Japan's scenario for taking a leading role in humanitarian assistance to rebuild Iraq was being derailed as a result of the blast.

The paper said Wednesday that the bombing had sent shockwaves through the government and that there was a growing view within the government that any troop deployment would be put off until next year.

Kiyohiko Koike, who headed the defense agency's Education and Training Bureau in the early 1990s, said the deployment of Japanese troops in Iraq would now violate the pacifist constitution.

Koike said Japan "now stands at the crossroads" of whether to take a stronger military profile or stick to its pacifist path. He warned that Japan would lose its reputation as a nation that opposes war if it sent troops to Iraq.

"I worked in the defense agency for more than three decades ... and I know no SDF personnel want to go to Iraq where fighting is still continuing," he told reporters.

The government previously said Japanese troops would be out of harm's way as they would only work in non-combat areas.

Koike argued the government defined "combat activity" too narrowly as conflicts between countries or quasi-countries.

"Under this definition, guerrilla wars are not considered combat activity," he said.

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