Sunday, November 28, 2004

British army to protect Japan's forces in Iraq ? Not so fast!

Japan has asked the British army to help protect its
troops in southern Iraq after Dutch soldiers withdraw
from the area in March next year.

Japanese and British generals have held discussions, but
Britain has so far not promised to send troops to the
area, the daily Asahi Shimbun said without citing

Japan has about 550 troops in the southern Iraq city of
Samawa, but its pacifist constitution limits their
activities to aid and reconstruction, including
providing fresh water.

Dutch troops from a nearby base currently maintain
security in Samawa, but the Dutch government has decided
to withdraw the troops in March. Dutch Defence Minister
Henk Kamp is set to meet Japanese officials this week to
explain the decision.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, a close ally of U.S.
President George W. Bush, is widely expected to extend
Japan's own mission beyond its initial deadline of
December 14, although no official announcement has been

Newspaper polls indicate a majority of the electorate
want the troops to return home in December.

Katsuya Okada, leader of Japan's main opposition
Democratic Party, has called on Koizumi to explain the
extension, rather than make the decision at a cabinet
meeting after parliament goes into recess.

"If he extends the mission without doing so, he cannot
get away with it as a politician and as a human being,"
Kyodo news agency quoted him as saying in a speech in
Shiga prefecture on Saturday.

Defence chief Yoshinori Ono has expressed expectations
of British help in Iraq if the troops stay on, the Asahi

"Britain is in control of the entire southern region, so
if necessary we will hold full discussions with Britain
and have them maintain security."

If Britain does not send troops to Samawa, Japan will be
forced to rely on Iraqi troops for security, the Asahi

Japan's defence ministry fears the focus of local
people's resentment could switch from Dutch troops to
the Japanese after March, the Asahi said, citing a
ministry official. The Japanese camp has been hit by
rocket shells, but there have been no casualties so far.

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