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

GSDF Returns from Iraq with Homework for the Japanese People
KITAMURA Fumio / Journalist

September 7, 2006
Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) completed the withdrawal of its entire troop from Iraq by the end of July. While this was not its first experience on foreign territory, the GSDF's past missions were limited to either participating in United Nations Peace Keeping Operations (PKO) or in disaster relief, and its dispatch to war-torn Iraq was an exceptional case that deviated from these two criteria.

In that sense, the GSDF's presence in Iraq, which continued for two and a half years, was a historic event that marked an important turning point in Japanese diplomacy. The Japanese people must now face up to the task of earnestly evaluating the issues left behind by the GSDF mission to determine Japan's stance on international contribution. We must begin this process of evaluation by once again questioning the legitimacy of its dispatch to Iraq under a Constitution that prohibits the use of military force in conflict resolution. According to the prevailing interpretation of the Constitution, the SDF can defend itself, but cannot act in collective defense. Thus its dispatch to Iraq, a country gripped by a bloody conflict, had been a major point of contention from a political as well as a legal perspective.

To create a legal basis for dispatching the SDF to Iraq, the administration of Prime Minister Koizumi Jun'ichiro passed a temporary statute - the Special Law for Assisting Iraqi Reconstruction. Under this piece of legislation, the SDF's mission was limited to "humanitarian support for reconstruction," and to activities within "noncombat" zones. The main mission of the U.S. armed forces, as well as the U.K. and other armies dispatched to Iraq, had been to maintain order under circumstances where fighting was anticipated. Within this military force army that constituted the "Coalition of the Willing," the SDF had an exceptional status, and the role of defending it was entrusted to the British and Dutch occupational forces.

Now that the GSDF has returned home safely, there is a widespread sense of relief in Japan that its members "fired not a single bullet and suffered not a single casualty." Major newspapers ran editorials that prominently gave voice to this public mood. It is doubtful that such sentiments - though accepted in Japan -is being shared abroad.

In an interview with a correspondent from Japan's public broadcaster NHK, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki repeatedly expressed his gratitude towards the SDF for "its contribution to maintaining order," perhaps reflecting the fact that Iraqi government officials viewed the SDF in the same light as the British and other troops of the multinational force. U.S. President George Bush also rained continuous praise on Prime Minister Koizumi for dispatching the SDF, but his comments were made within the context of Japan's endorsement and support for the war in Iraq and contained next to nothing about the exceptional nature of SDF's mission. On his part, Prime Minister Koizumi explained the reason for dispatching the SDF by repeating his logic of placing equal emphasis on "humanitarian support for reconstruction" and "the importance of the Japan-U.S. alliance."

Against this backdrop, the international community will inevitably conclude that Japan's primary motive lay in emphasizing the Japan-U.S. alliance. Dispatching the SDF also had the undeniable side effect of highlighting the difference between Japan's position and that of France, Germany and other countries that opposed the Iraq War.

We must also contemplate the reality of "humanitarian support for reconstruction" from a broader perspective – that of achieving stability and reconstruction in Iraq as a whole. Samawa, in Musanna Prefecture, was chosen as the location of the SDF mission, following thorough prior research that determined it to be "the region where order was best maintained." About two years'ago, I had the opportunity to meet leaders from Samawa -- religious leaders, teachers and doctors-- who had been invited to Tokyo. "Why is there no bloodshed in Samawa?" I asked, and the religious leader who also led the group answered: "Because the residents share a deep reverence for their elders that sustains a strong sense of community." Their range of vision did not extend beyond the Samawa region.

The discussion enlightened me to the tragic reality of Iraq, where stately functions had been dismantled and the entire nation was divided along the lines of religious sects and regional communities. With a population of 26 million, Iraq is a major country in the Middle East. Samawa is a small town of 50,000, and even including the surrounding regions, the number of inhabitants would at most total 200,000. The residents must have undoubtedly felt grateful for Japan's "humanitarian support for reconstruction," and welcomed the SDF's presence. However, according to local reports by the Japanese media, SDF activities are little known among Iraqis outside Samawa, who may have viewed the SDF as assisting the U.S. war effort in Iraq. There were several incidents in which Japanese were taken hostage by militant Iraqi resistance, and their impossible demand for the "immediate withdrawal of the SDF" may have reflected their perception of Japan's role.

From the 1960's through the 1980's, I visited Iraq on numerous occasions as a correspondent for a major national newspaper. And each time, I was strongly impressed by the amicable feeling expressed by the Iraqi people for Japan. How will the Iraq War change this invaluable asset of friendship accumulated over the years? As one who knew Iraq well in the past, I remain greatly concerned.

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

北村 文夫 / ジャーナリスト

2006年 9月 7日









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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > GSDF Returns from Iraq with Homework for the Japanese People