Sat, Dec 06, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Former Iraqi secret service murdered Japan's diplomats, says council official

REUTERS , TOKYO

The secret service of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was behind the recent killing of two Japanese diplomats, Iraq's interim foreign minister said in an interview published yesterday.

He said that Japan had been targeted because of its backing for the US-led occupation.

That would not bode well for Japan, which media reports say is set to give approval next week to a controversial plan to send its military to Iraq to assist in the reconstruction efforts.

Hoshiyar Zebari, a member of the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, told Japan's Kyodo news agency that US and Iraqi investigations showed there was little doubt that the attack was the work of the Mukhabarat secret service, which was created by Saddam and reported directly to him.

He said the way the assailants picked out their targets and carried out the attack was consistent with Mukhabarat methods.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's Cabinet is likely to approve a plan on Tuesday that will allow the dispatch of about 1,000 military personnel to Iraq, domestic media said.

Asked about Zebari's remarks, Koizumi told reporters: "Japanese are not the only ones being targeted. It was cruel, inhumane and unforgivable."

Government approval for the dispatch would not immediately lead to a troop deployment since it was not expected to include the date or other details.

The Japanese public is opposed to sending troops at this point, according to a survey by Kyodo released on Thursday.

Only 7.5 percent of respondents believed that Japan's military should be sent to Iraq as soon as possible, while 33.7 percent were against the dispatch altogether.

Over half of those polled, 56.3 percent, said the troops should be sent, but that the government should be careful about the timing, according to the poll.

Japanese diplomats Katsuhiko Oku, 45, and Masamori Inoue, 30, were gunned down on Saturday near Saddam's home town of Tikrit.

They were the first Japanese to be killed in Iraq since the US-led invasion in March.

Zebari also told Kyodo that the Mukhabarat was responsible for the killing of two South Korean technicians and seven Spanish intelligence agents south of Baghdad over the weekend.

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