Monday, November 01, 2004

Should Japan SDF troops stay in Iraq?

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi appeared to have won
public backing for his refusal to pull Japanese troops
out of Iraq despite the weekend beheading of a Japanese

But the killing of 24-year-old backpacker Shosei Koda
has re-ignited debate over whether Tokyo should extend
the troops' mission when their mandate expires in

Japanese officials confirmed on Sunday that the body and
severed head of a man found in Baghdad was that of Koda.

He had been captured by a militant group led by Al Qaeda
ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, which had said it would
behead him if Japan did not withdraw its troops.

Koda, a civilian who apparently took a bus to Iraq from
Jordan despite being warned of the dangers, was the
fifth Japanese to be killed in Iraq since the start of
the U.S.-led war in March 2003.

Koizumi condemned the killing as a despicable act of
terrorism and vowed to keep Japan's troops in the

Mainstream media backed his refusal to meet the captors'
demands. "

"We cannot cave in to threats," said the liberal Asahi
newspaper in an editorial. "A life was at stake, but
this decision was inevitable."

Political analysts said the immediate fallout from the
hostage killing was likely to be limited since many
ordinary Japanese had blamed Koda for putting himself at

"Koda went, not as a journalist, not as a member of a
non-governmental organisation, but as a tourist," said
political commentator Atsuo Ito. "I don't think there's
a lot of sympathy." Japan has about 550 troops at
Samawa, some 270 km (170 miles) south of Baghdad, for
humanitarian and reconstruction work, but their
activities have been restricted by the deteriorating

Koizumi, a close ally of U.S. President George W. Bush,
sent the troops to Iraq on the mission -- their riskiest
since World War Two -- despite opposition from most
voters. Some critics say the mission violates Japan's
pacifist constitution.

Japan's biggest opposition Democratic Party, which was
against the dispatch from the start, called on Sunday
for the soldiers to be brought home when their mandate

The Asahi agreed that it was time to reconsider.

"Now, when the U.S. Iraq policy is stalemated, it is
time to consider the withdrawal of the SDF," said the
newspaper, noting that its own opinion poll conducted
before the hostage crisis showed 63 percent of voters
opposed extending the troops' stay.

But the conservative Yomiuri newspaper said the soldiers
should stay on. "If Iraq fails to be democratised and
reconstructed and becomes a bankrupt nation, it would
become a stronghold of terrorists," the newspaper said.

"It is essential for the SDF (Self-Defence Forces) to be
extended beyond the Dec. 14 deadline set by a special

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