The ruling coalition rammed a government-proposed bill to send Self-Defense Forces to Iraq through a House of Councilors committee Friday evening amid resistance from the opposition, paving the way for final Diet approval of the controversial legislation.

Earlier in the day, the ruling alliance, led by the Liberal Democratic Party, rejected a no-confidence motion against the Cabinet of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in a 287-178 vote in the House of Representatives.

The motion, submitted earlier in the day by the opposition camp, was a last-ditch attempt to block the Upper House vote on the bill that would allow SDF troops to take part in Iraqi reconstruction efforts.

Following the Lower House vote, the coalition reopened final debate on the Iraq bill in the Upper House Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

After almost two hours of debate, ruling coalition lawmakers proposed terminating the deliberations, and passed the bill in a majority vote amid fierce protests from opposition members.

The ruling camp was hoping to have the bill endorsed by the full Upper House for enactment, even it the proceedings ran past midnight.

Opposition lawmakers, arguing that the committee vote was invalid, were preparing to submit a censure motion against committee chairman Ryuji Matsumura, an LDP member, making it uncertain how soon the plenary session can be held.

With the current Diet session set to close Monday, the opposition camp offered last-minute resistance against the controversial legislation.

The no-confidence motion was jointly submitted to the House of Representatives by four opposition parties — the Democratic Party of Japan, the Liberal Party, the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party — as a tactic aimed at scrapping the bill by delaying Diet proceedings through the end of the legislative session.

“The only remaining role for the Koizumi Cabinet is to resign as early as possible and thereby reduce the pain of people and the Japanese economy suffering from a slump,” the opposition parties declared in a written statement explaining the reasons behind the motion.

They slammed Koizumi for trying to send the SDF to Iraq even though fighting continues in the country, and for failing to drag the economy out of a decade-old slump.

Many LDP lawmakers have been critical of Koizumi’s economic policies.

His austere reformist agenda has been bashed by lawmakers seeking more public works spending aimed at supporting the local economies of their constituencies.

But all LDP members, including Hiromu Nonaka, a party heavyweight often critical of Koizumi’s policies, voted against the no-confidence motion during the Lower House plenary session.

Nonaka is one of the most vocal opponents of the proposed SDF dispatch, citing the fact that combat activity continues and that the missions are too dangerous for the SDF, whose use of weapons is strictly limited to self-defense by the war-renouncing Constitution.

Meanwhile, DPJ leader Naoto Kan, speaking to reporters after the opposition-proposed motion against Koizumi was voted down, insisted that their action was meaningful in that it clarified the points of debate for voters to consider in the next general election, which is widely expected for autumn.

“It has now become clear to the public which points they should look at in the election — whether they want (Koizumi’s) failed economic policies and a foreign policy of merely following in the footsteps of the United States like in the case of the Iraq bill,” Kan said.

Activities to be limited

A bill to send Self-Defense Forces troops to Iraq to take part in reconstruction efforts limits their activities to noncombat zones, in light of the war-renouncing Constitution, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said Friday.

The idea of stipulating that the SDF personnel would perform duties only in areas where there is no fighting “came about in relation to the Constitution,” Fukuda said during a session of the House of Councilors Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

His remarks suggest the area limit was incorporated into the bill to make the dispatch of SDF personnel to Iraq possible, based on the assumption that their activities in combat areas may be unconstitutional as they may become involved in battle action.

The Constitution renounces war or the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes. Current legislation allows the SDF to perform only peacekeeping duties in foreign countries where U.N. peacekeeping operations are under way.

During committee debate, Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi refrained from providing examples of municipalities in Iraq where it would be possible to send SDF personnel once the bill in question is passed.

In response to a demand by opposition lawmaker Kazuya Shimba to name at least one city where the SDF could be sent under the proposed legislation, Kawaguchi said, “I cannot say anything irresponsibly at this point because we must give an answer after proper preparation.”

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