LDP, New Komeito chiefs head to Samawah to assess security

The secretaries general of the Liberal Democratic Party and its ruling coalition partner New Komeito left Sunday for Iraq to check the security situation in Samawah, where Self-Defense Forces troops are based for reconstruction work.

Tsutomu Takebe of the LDP and Tetsuzo Fuyushiba of New Komeito also plan to sound out local opinion about the troops’ presence, according to the parties.

Their trip comes before the Cabinet’s expected decision Friday to extend the Iraq deployment of about 600 troops beyond the Dec. 14 expiration date.

Because some Komeito supporters are opposed to extending the deployment, the two secretaries general have decided to visit the country and inspect the security situation themselves.

It will be the first time since December 2003 that senior officials of the ruling parties have visited Samawah.

Their trip also comes a day after Defense Agency Director General Yoshinori Ono left for the southern Iraqi city to encourage the troops there and inspect the local security situation.

Recent opinion polls have indicated that most people oppose extending the mission.

Lawmakers from opposition parties, as well as some within the ruling parties, have also been wary of endorsing an extension given the deteriorating security situation in Iraq.

Minister Nobutaka Machimura said Sunday that extending the mission for another 12 months would be reasonable, given that the de facto deadline for the U.S.-led coalition forces to remain in the country is the end of next year.

“A one-year (extension) is probably the easiest logic to understand,” Machimura said on a TV Asahi morning talk show. He added that the multinational forces are supposed to end their mission when Iraq establishes a permanent government, which is slated to happen by the end of next year.

The ground troops have been deployed in Samawah since early this year on an aid mission to provide clean water and medical aid, and to repair local infrastructure.

In a political talk show on NHK, Kaoru Yosano, chairman of the LDP’s Policy Research Council, urged the government to make more of an effort to explain to the public why Japan needs to extend the deployment.

Two other politicians commented on the issue on the same show. New Komeito policy chief Yoshihisa Inoue said his party will decide whether to give the green light for the extension after thoroughly studying whether Samawah is safe.

Yoshito Sengoku, policy chief of the major opposition Democratic Party of Japan, called on the government to withdraw the troops as early as possible.