Out of Iraq
Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE
Out of Iraq
Khaleej Times Online
The withdrawal of Japan's self-defense force (SDF) stationed in Samawah, in southern Iraq, was declared by Prime Minister Koizumi Tuesday. It was to recall the 600 ground troops assigned to pursue humanitarian and reconstruction assistance activities. The timing was when the fledgling government in Iraq expressed its confidence in making policy decisions and govern the land on its own.
The scheduling of the withdrawal must be carefully planned as it will need to be co-coordinated with the British and Australian governments, whose troops have been providing security for the Japan's troops.
It was two and a half years ago, in January 2004, when Japan deployed its forces in a country at war for the first time after WWII. However, due to the heavy restraints imposed by its constitution, SDF troops were not to be engaged in combat. In fact, there were discussions as to whether they could fight back if attacked. The explanation was that if the troops were attacked personally, they could fight back - not because of their assignment there, but because a citizen has the right of (personal) self-defense. As a result, no bullets were fired by the SDF troops except for testing and training within the perimeter of their bases. And, luckily, the Japanese troops suffered no casualties during their mission (so far).
In fact, "safety" was the paramount priority in making the decision to send SDF troops to Iraq in the first place, and locating the safest place in Iraq was the objective of the preparatory group sent to Iraq in prior to dispatching the troops.
SDF even paid for the use of the land to establish its base in Samawah to the tribes who claimed the land to be theirs - said to be 30 million yen a year. Such an agreement was unusual in the land of deserts and unique traditions where the notion of land-ownership is different from that of developed cities or farms, and in the country where legitimate government was non-existent at the time to authenticate such claims. It was decided, however, to pay the sum to the tribes in consideration that SDF is not stationed there to fight, but to provide humanitarian and reconstruction assistance, which for its own mission to succeed, it requires cooperation of the dwellers there. Besides, the money itself could be considered as a sort of assistance for the local people to live better.
Such being the assignment, SDF, by themselves and by cooperating and advising the local people - but never giving "orders" to the people - restored and built water supply facilities, hospitals, schools, and roads. The function was more of the type normally provided by civilian aid workers than activities often associated with the term "troops." Indeed, one of the major functions of SDF when in Japan has been emergency restoration caused by natural calamities.
It has been reported that almost a total of six thousand troops have been sent to Iraq on three-month rotations. The troops had dispensed medical aid three hundred times, provided fifty-four thousand tons of clean water, and improved medical facilities, water-supply facilities and school buildings in over one hundred locations. They have also employed about nearly one thousand local people daily.
After the announcement of the withdrawal some people in Samawah expressed their wishes for SDF to stay longer to assist further (re)construction. It is a bit interesting to see some media who used to oppose strongly of Japan sending its troops to Iraq now claiming the withdrawal might warrant reconsideration taking into account the desires of the local people. There are apparently no political parties making similar assertions at this time.
It should be noted here also that although ground troops will be withdrawn, the activities of SDF would not cease. Japan has expressed its expanded support in reconstructing Iraq through the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) by Air-SDF establishing a once a week flight between Kuwait and Baghdad. To that commitment, Secretary-General of UN Kofi Annan has formally expressed his appreciation.
Wishing for the safe return of the troops.