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Home > Media Reiews > Weekly Review Last Updated: 14:57 03/09/2007
Weekly Review #92: April 15, 2003

Japan clueless about Iraq?

John de Boer (Research Associate, GLOCOM)

A survey of recent news reports on Japan's vision of a post-Saddam Iraq reflect a government that is lost and more likely to do harm than good to the Iraqi people.

A week ago, the Japanese foreign minister Yoriko Kawaguchi tried to position Japan as a "mediator" between Europe and the US. After visiting the UK, Germany and France this past week she was told that there was "no room for Japan to play a mediating role" (Yomiuri, 14 April). Her plan to seek support for a quick adoption to a UN resolution on the reconstruction of Iraq was also thwarted after she failed to gain any type of commitment from these countries.

One look at her plan says it all. According to the press, she proposed a resolution built on the principles of: (1) maintaining Iraq's sovereignty and territorial integrity; (2) establishing a new administration by the Iraqi people; and (3) a sufficient degree of UN involvement in post-war Iraq reconstruction.

Most of her European counterparts must have been bewildered when she mentioned these points. While individuals such as the US Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz claim that "tyranny has lost its grip and the Iraqi people are liberated", one glance at Iraq demonstrates that the country is in a state of chaos and anarchy. By its very essence, this war/invasion, so avidly supported by the Japanese government, violated Iraq's sovereignty and territorial integrity. Currently, there is wide spread looting, destruction and violent power struggles raging throughout the country. As of today, there is no rule of law in Iraq. The Iraqi army has "disappeared" and the battle over towns and cities now wages between militias and tribal forces that are fighting for their political future.

Although, Japan has joined the US and Britain in stating that the new Iraqi government should be chosen by its people, its actions speak to the contrary. According to the Yomiuri newspaper, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs plans to invite four exiled Iraqi political groups to Tokyo early this week to discuss, "their visions on the interim authority and to allow them to make requests for reconstruction from Japan" (April 14). Which begs the question, did the Iraqi people choose these four groups to fly to Japan in their representation? If they haven't been sanctioned by the Iraqi people who gave them the right to make requests for reconstruction? Furthermore, how can we be sure that those requests will benefit the Iraqi people? Won't such promises end up strengthening and enriching the hands of these non-elected representatives when they enter Iraq waiving promises of reconstruction from Japan in exchange for a political mandate?

More immediately, the Koizumi administration seems to have no idea about what the US Defense Department's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) plans to do before an interim government is set up. The Japanese government has pledged $100 million dollars for reconstruction, it has named an ambassador for reconstruction in Iraq and has gone so far as to propose the sending Self Defense Forces. Yet, senior government officials, such as the chief cabinet secretary Yasuo Fukuda, admit that Japan "still does not have all details on what kind of organization the ORHA is" (Asahi, 12 April). Confusion among Japanese officials was highlighted when Toshimitsu Motegi (senior vice foreign minister) claimed that, "there are no legal obstacles to dispatching personnel to cooperate in the ORHA, provided military activity is not part of the process" (Asahi, 12 April). Considering that the ORHA is located within the US "Department of Defense", one wonders how Motegi can assume that the organization has nothing to do with the military.

As far as the UN is concerned, Japan seems to be all over the place. When Kawaguchi went to Germany, which insists on a "central" UN role from the outset, the German foreign minister Joschka Fischer said that, "Japan and Germany have the exact same position regarding post-war reconstruction" (Asahi, 12 April). On the other hand, Japan's ambassador in charge of reconstruction assistance to Iraq, Fumiaki Takahashi, is satisfied to state that "Japan would like to see the UN have sufficient involvement in the political process" (Reuters, 11 April). When pressed on what he meant by sufficient, he said that this was up for discussion. On 12 April, an unnamed aide to Koizumi shoved the UN aside by telling the Asahi Shimbun that, "Japan could become a mediator in the reconstruction process because of its neutral stance". As to how he explained Japan's neutrality, no one knows.

Other worrying comments in the press stemming from Japanese officials include Takahashi's refusal to consider debt forgiveness as part of Japan's aid to Iraq. According to Takahashi, Japan thinks debt forgiveness would "create a moral hazard on the part of those countries" (Linda Sieg, Reuters, 11 April). In fact, it is Japan's unwillingness to even consider this option that presents a moral question. Not only is it unrealistic to expect a war-torn, starving and occupied nation to pay back its debt, it is immoral and particularly cruel to insist on this debt while Japan bands up with the US to secure a more stable and cheap source of oil for its economy.

The Koizumi administration continues to insist on a high-profile role for Japan in post-Saddam Iraq. The benefits of which could be immense: cheaper oil, greater access to the Iraqi market, improved ties with the US, getting the Iraqis to pay back their debt, a further expansion in the SDF role and a slew of reconstruction contracts for Japanese companies. None of which place the Iraqi people first. Which brings us to a fundamental question that lies at the core of much suffering in the Arab world. "Did we ever ask the local population (in this case the Iraqi's) what they wanted?"


  • Naomi Klein, "Rebuilding Iraq? It's privatization in disguise",, 13 April 2003
  • Linda Sieg, "UN role key for rebuilding Iraq Japan Envoy", Reuters, 11 April 2003
  • "Japan welcomes US-Britain summit embracing UN role in Iraq", AFP, 9 April 2003
  • "Kawaguchi: France want's US to clarify UN role", Asahi Shimbun, 12 April 2003
  • Taro Karasaka, "Conflicting signals on sending team to Iraq", Asahi Shimbun, 12 April 2003
  • "Tokyo steps on the gas to speed postwar help", Asahi Shimbun, 12 April 2003
  • Keiko Iizuka and Yuichi Suzuki, "Europe schism scuttles Kawaguchi plan", Yomiuri Shimbun, 14 April 2003
  • "Government to invite anti-Saddam camp to table", Yomiuri Shimbun, 14 April 2003

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