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The House of Representatives on Tuesday began deliberating a government-proposed bill to send the Self-Defense Forces to Iraq.

Tuesday’s debate suggested a rocky road ahead, with the opposition parties questioning the purpose of the bill and the need to dispatch SDF personnel.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said the legislation will enable Japan to contribute to Iraq’s reconstruction in line with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1483, which calls for international support on humanitarian aid, reconstruction and maintaining security.

The bill also cites U.N. Resolutions 678, 687 and 1441 as a basis for supporting the U.S.-led war on Iraq. Resolution 678 authorized military action against Iraq after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait, while 687 demanded that Iraq give up its weapons of mass destruction and 1441 warned that Iraq would face serious consequences if it failed to disarm.

Opposition parties charged that these past resolutions are not sufficient to justify war on Iraq, and that weapons of mass destruction, the very cause of the war, have not been found.

Masaharu Nakagawa of the Democratic Party of Japan said the party does not totally oppose the dispatch of SDF personnel “if they are truly needed.”

But he argued that the DPJ’s fact-finding mission to Iraq did not find an urgent need for the SDF to be dispatched, and that nongovernmental organizations operating in Iraq should hire Iraqi people to carry out reconstruction work.

“Are you sticking to sending the SDF because you have been asked to do so by (U.S.) President (George W.) Bush?” Nakagawa asked Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Koizumi denied that the government had received any such request.

Government sources have said that Washington indirectly urged Japan to send about 1,000 SDF troops to Iraq at the completion of the war, saying it wanted to see “2,000 boots on the ground.”

Responding to the charge that no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq, Koizumi said there are “many suspicions” and that “Japan is carefully watching” the progress of the U.S. in its search for such weapons.

Defense Agency chief Shigeru Ishiba said that a government fact-finding mission has found that there is a need for an SDF presence in Iraq, especially in reconstructing the nation’s infrastructure, providing medical assistance, and helping with the transportation and supply of water, food and other relief materials.

“To do such jobs, the SDF’s capability to work in a self-sufficient manner is necessary,” Ishiba said. “The SDF’s experience in working with other countries’ troops in past peacekeeping operations is also valuable.”

Other points of contention include the four-year period effective period the legislation carries and making the SDF’s dispatch subject to Diet approval within 20 days of a dispatch order.

Opposition parties have demanded that the four-year period be shortened and that any SDF dispatch be subject to prior Diet approval.

Koizumi said four years is “not too short and not too long,” but it could be a point of compromise with the opposition parties as government officials have admitted that there is no concrete reason for this particular time span.

The opposition parties also questioned why the government is trying, under another bill, to extend the antiterrorism law by two years after it expires in November.

Koizumi responded that antiterrorism operations in and around Afghanistan are ongoing. However, the government and ruling parties may also compromise on this point by carrying over debate on the bill to an extraordinary Diet session in the fall, allowing the Iraqi law to be enacted by the end of the current extended session on July 28.

Asked if the government is ready to make compromises, Koizumi told reporters later in the day that he “welcomes” any revision proposals from the opposition parties.

The DPJ has not decided whether to enter into discussions over revisions.

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