Politicians in Japan are wrangling over a parliamentary bill that would authorize the deployment of non-combat Japanese troops to Iraq. The bill is being championed by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's ruling coalition, but its almost inevitable success has not prevented angry opposition from its detractors. The bill would allow Koizumi to send up to 1,000 military engineers and other support personnel to aid in reconstruction and assist American and allied soldiers. With continued reports of Iraqi unrest, the political opposition and the Japanese public are increasingly unhappy with the idea of sending Japanese troops into potentially hostile territory.
An Asahi Shimbun editorial reported that a poll showed just 33-percent support for sending troops overseas, with the most commonly cited reason for refusal being that it was "too dangerous." The editorial argued that "Iraq is essentially still at war," and that troops should not be dispatched merely in service of the U.S.-Japan alliance. Instead, the piece concluded, soldiers should only deploy "with the blessing of the people of Japan and to a warm welcome from the people of Iraq."
The issue has become a focus of national attention because of Japan's profound sensitivity to involving its Self-Defense Forces in any kind of combat situation. Canada's Globe and Mail carried an AP story reporting that parliamentary resistance was fierce in the lower house, but "the legislation authorizing the troop dispatch is almost certain to pass because Mr. Koizumi's three-party coalition controls the majority in both chambers of parliament." The Daily Yomiurireported that "passage of the bill will probably be delayed until Sunday." The article said Koizumi instructed his party bosses to have the bill passed by Monday, when the current extended session of parliament comes to an end. The Mainichi Daily News ran a dramatic photo from the floor of the upper house Friday, when angry legislators brawled in an effort to prevent the bill's passage.
A Japan Times op-ed argued that Koizumi is dragging his feet for political reasons: "The public is increasingly concerned about the unstable situation in Iraq and the guerrilla activities there. They worry that the dispatch of Japan's SDF may lead to an unforeseen disaster." What seemed like an easy way for the prime minister to boost his popularity before the elections, which most expect Koizumi will call this fall, now seems like a risky venture. According to the Globe and Mail's AP report, opposition parties will eventually allow the bill to pass "because they fear such action might alienate voters or prod Koizumi to dissolve Parliament and call elections, for which they are ill-prepared."