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Japan's PM Reaffirms Commitment to Rebuilding Iraq - 2003-12-02

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has reaffirmed his determination to send troops to help reconstruct Iraq, despite the recent killings of two Japanese diplomats working there.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Tuesday that Japan must be ready to risk danger and dispatch troops to Iraq.

During a speech in Tokyo, he said that canceling plans to send troops would be "giving in to terrorists." His words come four days after two unarmed Japanese diplomats were ambushed and killed in southern Iraq.

Their deaths shocked the nation and stiffened public resistance to the government's plan to deploy troops. A newspaper poll published Monday shows that more than 80 percent of Japanese people are worried about sending troops to Iraq.

The prime minister said Tuesday that the time frame for dispatching troops remains unclear and that he wants to gain public's understanding before they go. Japan was a strong supporter of the U.S.-led war in Iraq and has pledged $5 billion for reconstruction.

The Japanese Foreign Ministry on Tuesday denied newspaper reports saying Tokyo is also postponing plans to send civilian engineers and doctors to Iraq. Hatsuhisa Takashima, a foreign ministry spokesman, said the team's departure date is not set, but will be after the current security assessment is finished.

"The government is now drafting a basic plan to dispatch self-defense forces and also civilians… … once it gets approval… the minister of defense would give order for the dispatch," he said.

Mr. Takashima also reaffirmed the government's commitment to Iraq.

"There are some public opinions strongly against the dispatch… but Prime Minister Koizumi and Foreign Minister [Yoriko] Kawaguchi are determined to utilize the ability of the self-defense forces'…," said Mr. Takashima.

Japan's constitution limits the military's role to non-combat operations and troops are only allowed to go into areas considered safe. Even so, resistance is increasing to any troop deployments. Members of Mr. Koizumi's own Liberal Democratic Party are calling for a review of his plan. The biggest opposition group, the Democratic Party, has harshly criticized the planned dispatch, calling it "foolhardy."