The occupation of Iraq seems to reach a 'new turning point' roughly once every three months. Saddam Hussein has been captured, elections held, a fresh, new and sectarian constitution draughted. Yet still ever more tunnel emerges at the end of the light. The feel good announcement for the spring quarter is the appointment of a new Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri Al-Maliki. No sooner was Maliki in the job than Tony Blair arrived for a joint press conference - calling up the agreeable possibility of a journalists' sweepstake on which of the pair will last longer. Maliki gave Blair a bit of a shock by saying that Iraqi troops will replace foreign ones in sixteen of Iraq's eighteen provinces, beginning in June. This is unlikely actually to happen, since the occupiers think the Iraqi security forces are not up to the job, but Blair was expecting to announce a withdrawals of British troops starting in July. More interesting than this mix up about dates is the effect of the planned British redeployment on the Japanese troops in Iraq. The Japanese soldiers are currently stationed in the town of Samawa, in the province of Muthanna. If Muthanna is 'Iraqized' (a strange usage since it is already part of Iraq) then Japanese people will be unsure whether the Self Defence Force troops are coming home or not, as well as not knowing why those troops were really sent to Iraq in the first place.
The first troops of the 'ground self defence force' were sent to Samawa in January 2004. Since Japan is consitutionally forbidden, first of all to have an army and secondly to send armed forces overseas, one might ask how well the non-existent army could defend Japan on the territory of Iraq. At the United Nations University in the autumn of 2004 your correspondent was witness to a harangue on this very subject by Japan's former ambassador to the Netherlands. The nicotine stained functionary asserted, in the manner of a judo club senior member scolding an inferior, that Japan was fulfilling its humanitarian duty as a developed country. Indeed, the SDF forces are in Iraq,according to Prime Minister Koizumi and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to provide 'humanitarian and reconstruction assistance' to the people of Samawa. But since under the 'Law Concerning the Special Measures on Humanitarian and Reconstruction Assistance in Iraq', the Self Defence Force are forbidden to operate in the battlefield,why send soldiers at all? Japanese troops are relying upon British and Australian soldiers to protect them - as any civilian contractors would be. So why are the Japanese soldiers in Samawa and how long will they stay? The answers to these questions have little to do with the Governorate of Muthanna and a very great deal to do with Japan's relations with the US.
Upon the extension of the SDF dispatch in January 2005 Koizumi borrowed the words of the constitution for which his actions showed such low regard,saying 'extending a helping hand for another country's nation-building is in accord with the spirit of Japan's "desire to occupy an honored(sic) place in the international society."' Iraq was a nation, albeit a rather unhappy one, before the US and Britain invaded it. There can be little honour in co-operating with the exercise in nation-destruction that has followed. Yet, on the grounds that 'mutual cooperation and fostering a relationship of trust [with the USA] is essential for Japan's peace and stability' Koizumi dispatched the SDF to Samawa to prove that Japan had soldiers and they would go where ever the US needed them to. Also instructive here are the words of Self Defence Agency Chief Shigeru Ishiba as he sent off the first troops; '[t]he reason we can lead such an affluent life...it is because we have a stable oil supply from the Middle East, isn't it?' And here lies the problem for Koizumi. To placate his allies he ordered Japanese troops to participate in the occupation of Iraq. Yet those troops need the allied soldiers to protect them against the resistance to the occupation. What will happen now that Britain says it will withdraw troops from Muthanna? Ishiba's successor Fukushiro Nukaga says that the SDF will go when the British and Australian troops go. This is not good enough. If the SDF are so unecessary that they are simply waiting for the British decision then they can come home immediately. Let us hope they would be swiftly followed by all foreign troops in Iraq.