GSDF goodness elated Samawah: Iraqi journalist

by Daisuke Yamamoto

Many Iraqis in the southern city of Samawah feel grateful to withdrawing Japanese troops for rebuilding roads, hospitals and other vital facilities there, but some have felt disappointed because they had higher expectations for what the troops could do, a Samawah-based Iraqi journalist said.

“Japanese troops have brought goodness to the city, accomplishing so much, given the extent of the city’s destruction,” said Hassan Halawa, who visited Japan last week.

But “some residents thought things would work out once the troops came, when the reality was that everything won’t be ready in one or two or even in 10 years,” he said.

Since early 2004, Ground Self-Defense Force troops have built or rebuilt roads, hospitals, schools, government buildings and water purification facilities in and around Samawah, the capital of the sparsely populated al-Muthanna Province southeast of Baghdad.

After a 2 1/2-year humanitarian mission, the 600 troops began withdrawing last week, and Iraqi forces formally took over the Shiite province’s security responsibilities from British and Australian forces Thursday. The GSDF pullout is to be completed this month.

Halawa, 35, said some residents were let down by or opposed the Japanese troops’ presence because only basic infrastructure was rebuilt and most of the jobs provided to locals were only temporary.

As in much of Iraq, unemployment rates run high in Samawah.

“From the beginning, Japanese troops were just to provide water and rebuild roads, schools and health-care facilities. Only a power plant project was added at the request of a local government. Opponents should direct their criticism at local governments, which didn’t do anything,” Halawa said.

But problems did exist in the way jobs were offered, Halawa said. “Job brokers and interpreters were incapable enough to hire incapable workers. That led to dissatisfaction among residents.”

Overall, however, many residents in Samawah have approved of the troops, according to Halawa. One reason, he said, is that unlike other foreign forces that assumed security responsibilities in Iraq, Japanese troops engaged only in humanitarian work and never intervened into security affairs.

“When they first came here, they proclaimed that their mission was reconstruction. After these years, they never strayed from it. Even their opponents recognize that,” Halawa said.

As an Iraqi journalist extensively reporting on Japanese troops in Samawah, Halawa himself has not been spared forms of harassment. One-and-a-half years ago, he said, a threatening letter arrived at his office from a group claiming it would “decimate the Iraqi puppets of Japan,” referring to Iraqis involved in Japanese affairs in Samawah.