Japan's Iraq Conundrum
Japan's Iraq Conundrum
One year ago this month, an advance team from
Whether the troop deployment to Samawah, in southern
Sakai Keiko is one of
Currently the director of area studies at the government-affiliated Institute of Developing Economies, which she joined in 1982 after graduating from the University of Tokyo, Sakai first visited Iraq in 1986 when the institute sent her there on a three-year stint as a researcher. She took up her current post in 2002 and most recently revisited
In books and articles in scholarly journals,
She acknowledges that the GSDF was welcomed at first in relatively peaceful Samawah -- where the Japanese presence has so far provided 44,000 tons of clean water and ensures jobs for 300 to 500 Iraqis each day -- but she worries that events could easily take a turn for the worse before or after national elections scheduled for Jan. 30.
What was life in
I lived there in the late 1980s, before the 1991 Gulf War and the subsequent economic sanctions, so the economic situation was good.
In the sense that it was a totalitarian state in which you were always watched, yes, there was a distinct lack of psychological freedom -- but there was more economic freedom than now.
During the three years I was there, it was a very easy place to live. In the wake of Saddam Hussein's removal, the psychological oppression has completely disappeared. In that sense it's more free, but the economic and social restrictions have become extremely severe.
How was it to be a foreign woman in Saddam's
It was a breeze.
Nonetheless, surely life for Iraqis under Saddam was a terrible strain?
Yes, it was. On the one hand, if you stayed within the rules, you could lead a relatively stable life, economically and socially. If you absolutely insisted on resisting, however, then everybody knew you were in a whole heap of trouble.
Sending Japanese Forces to a "Non-Combat Zone"
Turning to more recent times,
Bush declared that the war ended on
Of course, during the (official) war, Samawah didn't see that much combat. But considering the state of the country, there was absolutely no guarantee from the outset that combat could be prevented as time passed.
In other words, in my view, more than asking whether Samawah itself is or isn't a combat area, the point is that when the SDF was dispatched there,
So are you suggesting that, in interpreting the law, it would be more appropriate to define the "non-combat area" as the entire country of
Yes. For example, if
Put a different way, if you think that a location ceased to be a combat area because the war officially ended, then consider Fallujah or other areas where insurgency continued. At the time of the purported end of the war, they, too, were not combat areas.
How do you see the situation for the GSDF now?
Samawah, compared to other areas, is still relatively calm. But conditions have undeniably deteriorated. Attacks on Dutch forces and
Mortars are comparatively weak; they're simply lobbed up and come down. Compared to the attacks in April and August, those in late October were clearly driven by stronger intention to hurt the target.
Is it known who launched the attacks?
It is likely that there was some connection between the April and August attacks and fierce assaults on
Sadr had few supporters in Samawah, but those who were there probably thought they had to pitch in somehow.
According to the Asahi Shimbun, the October attacks were carried out by members of the local Shia tribes that account for 90-95 percent of Samawah's population. Samawah is somewhat laid back, politically speaking. Still, resistance to the SDF is on the rise.
Iraq is said to have the world's second-largest oil reserves, yet Japan -- which gets 87 percent of its oil from the Middle East -- imports only a tiny portion from Iraq. So what is the connection between stability in
Is that because Iraqi oil is cheap to produce, at about $1 a barrel?
Though it is often said Iraqi oil is cheap, because of pressure from OPEC, the country probably wouldn't be able to sell it so inexpensively in the future.
There is another important factor to consider:
In the 1970s or '80s,
But due to the war, much of the payment for those construction projects remains unpaid to either
Let's factor in other oil producers in the region. The
That is a very sensitive issue. Saudi Arabian supplies are dominated completely by the
Japanese Overtures to
For the sake of Japanese energy security,
Hence Japan-Iran talks are progressing, and the
Is it possible that the GSDF was dispatched in part to further opportunities for Japanese construction firms?
Japanese companies do want to be dealt in after peace is resumed. But the primary reason
Subordinate to that is the desire to secure room for Japanese business -- including construction projects. If
If an Iraqi government steered by the
Who Will Protect the SDF in Samawah?
The Dutch troops providing security to the SDF contingent in Samawah are expected to leave
At this point, the British military is expected to replace the Dutch to protect the Japanese in Samawah. That's what the Japanese government has requested, and the decision has been all-but finalized.
Still, it would be naive to assume that just because the British are taking up after the Dutch that things will all go swimmingly. Dutch troops created little stir while keeping the peace in Samawah. That is because they haven't fought any significant battles with Iraqis anywhere else in the country. They're not hated by the populace.
The British are a different story. They've had several sizeable clashes with Iraqis in places like
Following the decision in December to extend the stay by Japanese troops for a year, GSDF Chief of Staff Mori Tsutomu hinted at installing a radar system at the Japanese camp capable of locating the launching and landing spots of mortar shells or rockets. Equipped with that capability, do you believe
Military strategy is not my field of expertise, so I don't know exactly to what degree they are allowed to engage the enemy. Whatever the case, considering the debate that is now going on in
Regarding the GSDF deployment, Japanese at home are concerned that their troops abroad may die in terrorist or guerilla attacks. They are also worried that Japanese might kill Iraqis, and whether cooperating with offensive actions against Iraqis is in obvious violation of the Constitution.
Naturally, the government would say an action involving force was taken in self-defense, but proving it would be difficult.
The Security Factor in the Dispatch of SDF to
Is the government trying to accomplish something with the deployment of the GSDF that hasn't been made clear to the public?
Yes, I believe so.
Do you see in any of this an attempt to return to militarism in the mold of pre-World War II Japan?
I believe some politicians do have that aim. Their camp supports the dispatch from the point of view that if the SDF isn't beefed up and made into a regular military,
In response to the many critics of
That is a difficult question. Checkbook diplomacy is criticized as a practice of just dumping money without following up. However, if through economic assistance
It is often said that because instability prevents private companies from going to
Seen the other way around, however, it can be argued that the instability is caused by the ruined economy. Inside
There are lots of economic development specialists at
The Rule of Law?
Unfortunately, it hasn't worked. The Iraqi people yearn for the rule of law from the bottom of their hearts. Previously, Saddam Hussein himself was the law. Now there is no law -- it's lawless. There's no constitution. There's no strict policy on how to change the law.
The problem is how to establish a new kind of rule of law before the old-fashioned kind, in other words Islamic rule of law, emerges. In
Why else do you think Muqtada al-Sadr is so popular among the poorest? It is because he has fashioned his own kind of Sharia law and has solidified support in certain cities like
Many Iraqis insist that the worst thing
Supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr have reportedly said recently that they regard the Japanese as helping to occupy
Foreign Troops as Occupiers
Frankly, most Iraqis believe any foreign troops bearing arms are occupiers, and they don't want occupiers to remain on their soil. But there are two main strands of thinking on this.
Most Sunni Iraqis want to get occupiers out by force now. Shiites, meanwhile, want to engage in a political process first and establish a government. Then they'll have a good excuse to ask the occupiers to go home.
Some people think that even if the Japanese are occupiers, a Japanese presence is needed for now -- particularly the private construction companies -- and that some months down the line maybe private companies will come and construct big projects. The problem is that if the SDF turns out to be more occupier than contributor to economic development, then the people will attack them.
Iraqis can remember seeing Japanese corporations -- Mitsubishi, Marubeni, Taisei Corp. and so on -- so when they think about
Thus, people think the SDF can build factories, schools, roads -- many things. But after one year, people have started to understand that the SDF is not a construction company.
This is a pity for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Whenever local criticism against the SDF surfaces, it promises official development aid to the people of Samawah. Actually, the ministry contributes more to the Iraqi people than the SDF.
Muqtada al-Sadr has a branch in Samawah, but it is not so strong. But you can't assume it will remain weak. Samawah has a strongly tribal society. Arab tribes are famous for their militancy.
If some kind of anti-occupation movement spreads in
What do you see as the SDF's biggest challenge over the next year?
The understanding that the SDF is not that effective in economic development will spread. So, a major challenge will be how to cover up the fiction that the SDF was sent to Samawah for the purpose of humanitarian aid.
The main reason for sending them was actually to contribute to American policy.
That fiction will become obvious to the people of Samawah, so
Eric Prideaux is a staff writer for The Japan Times.
This is a slightly abbreviated version of an interview that appeared in The Japan Times,