Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Darkening Skies Over Japan's Self Defense Forces in Iraq
KITAMURA Fumio  /  Journalist

August 24, 2004
The Iraq War, forcibly pursued by the U.S. administration of President George Bush, has been strongly criticized by the mainstream of the international community for the ambiguity of evidence cited as grounds for launching the attack and the lack of legal justification based on international law. As if symbolizing its growing isolation, the United States and its allies have been described as a "Coalition of the Willing" -- a peculiar term seldom used in international politics. This makes it all the more important for President Bush to praise the world's second-largest economic power for its decision to send troops to Iraq and to name Japan after the United Kingdom as a country contributing to the establishment of stability and democracy in Iraq.

However, it is a well-known fact both in Japan and abroad that the Self Defense Forces (SDF) was dispatched with the limited purpose of providing "humanitarian support for post-war reconstruction" that excludes partaking in "activities for maintaining order." The SDF therefore has a unique place within the "Coalition of the Willing." Two contradictory factors lie in the background that led to limiting the role of the SDF. Needless to say, the first factor involves the Japanese Constitution that prohibits the use of military force and mounting public opinion against the Iraq War. The other involves the government's consideration for U.S. relations that it describes as the axis of Japanese diplomacy. When Fujiwara Kiichi, a renowned scholar of international politics and Professor at Tokyo University, said with a certain measure of ridicule that "the Self Defense Forces are in effect protecting Japan's alliance with the United States," he succinctly expressed the crux of the issue.

Caught in this dilemma, Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro and his administration sought to dispatch the SDF to an area in Iraq where "no military activity is involved." As a result, Samawa in southern Iraq was chosen as the SDF camping site. And it was from Musanna Prefecture where Samawa is located, that seven leaders recently visited Japan at the invitation of a non-governmental organization. These included two theologians, two doctors, a pharmaceutical engineer and two teachers.

The two-hour discussion with the leaders offered a valuable opportunity to understand the feelings Samawa residents have towards the SDF and to gain a glimpse into the highly complicated nature of Iraqi society. The seven guests spoke as one as they began by expressing their affection and gratitude for members of the SDF. Theologian Said Ali Almaili said he was "impressed by the devoted actions of SDF members," and added that "the Japanese people should rest assured that law and order is being maintained in Samawa." The other theologian, Sheikh Maad Alwaili, disclosed he had issued a 'fatwa' -- religious decree -- prohibiting any attack against the SDF during the Islamic day of worship observed every Friday.

But as the exchange of views deepened, the gap between the increasingly desperate state of bloodshed that prevails throughout Iraq and the comments made by the seven guests became more apparent. Their perspective was limited to Musanna Prefecture. Though strongly attached to their own local community, their awareness as Iraqi nationals seemed exceedingly weak. I posed a question - "Why is law and order being maintained in Samawa when murder and destruction is rampant throughout Iraq?" Mr. Almaili responded with pride that it was due to the "deep relationship of trust that exists between major tribe leaders in our area." Listening to his response I was captivated by a dark premonition concerning Iraq's future.

Why should their dependence on tribes, local communities and religious factions be stronger than their sense of belonging to a nation? While the ultimate cause could be traced back to Iraq's history of domination by the Ottoman Empire and England, the greatest factor must surely lie with the oppression suffered under the regime of Saddam Hussein. For Iraqis, solidarity centered on the tribe and on religious factions served as the foundation in protecting themselves and their families from the terrifying atrocities of the Saddam regime. The bloody rule of terror left behind a legacy that has ripped apart the deepest fabric of Iraqi society. And this, paradoxically, was the secret behind the exclusive sense of security in Samawa.

Iraq is a major country in the Middle East with a total population of 25 million. Samawa, with a population of roughly 40,000, or 185,000 including its neighboring areas, represents only a small portion of that whole. There, its people have maintained their own secluded social order. And there, in that small local community, the SDF continues to provide 'humanitarian support for reconstruction.' Iraqis living in other regions must surely see the SDF as a member of the U.S.-led military alliance. And the more praise President Bush showers on Japan for sending the SDF, the stronger the perception of 'Japan as follower of America' becomes in the minds of ordinary Iraqi citizens.

What I fear strongly is the possibility that the 'wall' that isolates the 'secure' region of Samawa from the rest of Iraq will be torn down by anti-U.S. sentiments that now permeate the country, making the SDF a target for attack. Is the Japanese government prepared to take realistic countermeasures when faced with such a contingency? Japan's diplomatic decision to send the SDF may yet be seriously tested by growing confusion in the Iraqi situation.

The writer is a former Professor of Shukutoku University and former Senior Editor and London Bureau Chief of the Yomiuri Newspaper.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

北村 文夫 / ジャーナリスト

2004年 8月 24日








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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Darkening Skies Over Japan's Self Defense Forces in Iraq