The Diet on Saturday enacted controversial legislation to dispatch the Self-Defense Forces to help rebuild Iraq, with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi pledging to carefully study the timing for the deployment to help guarantee the troops’ safety.
With only two days to go before its recess, the Diet — amid shouts and scuffles among lawmakers — gave the green light to the government-proposed bill to send SDF troops to Iraq, with the House of Councilors endorsing the legislation 136 to 102 at around 1:45 a.m. The House of Representatives cleared the bill on July 4.
“We will conduct precisely required aid operations under independent judgment and with sufficient consideration for the safety of SDF personnel,” Koizumi said in a statement after the enactment of the law.
With the likelihood of troops being deployed in the fall or later, the government plans to study conditions in Iraq and send a fact-finding mission, including SDF personnel, before deciding when and where Japanese soldiers will go and what they will do.
Despite increasing reports of attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq, the government has repeatedly said SDF personnel will only be sent to noncombat zones.
“We are not necessarily in a hurry,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda told reporters. “But I think the Iraqi people want it as soon as possible.”
“While sufficiently studying the situations in Iraq, we will decide on when, the scale and what to do there,” the government’s top spokesman said.
The plan to dispatch SDF troops to Iraq came after U.S. President George W. Bush, Koizumi’s closest ally on the global stage, expressed hope that Tokyo would participate in Iraq’s postwar reconstruction. The administration submitted the bill in mid-June.
“Iraq’s reconstruction and civilian stability is important not only for the stability of the Middle Eastern region, which holds an essential meaning for Japan, but also for the peace and security of the whole international community, including Japan,” Koizumi said.
Koizumi’s Liberal Democratic Party and its two partners in the ruling coalition, New Komeito and the New Conservative Party, backed the bill. Opposition parties led by the Democratic Party of Japan voted against it.
Amid a dramatic tussle of lawmakers, the coalition rammed the bill through the Upper House Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the final step before its passage.
Opposition members of the committee claimed the procedure was invalid because Committee Chairman Ryuji Matsumura allowed a mob of ruling lawmakers to push the bill through, but to no avail.
Despite Diet approval, political wrangling is expected to continue for months given the unstable security situation in Iraq and the failure to uncover weapons of mass destruction.
The United States and Britain have insisted the former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction, using the claim to justify their invasion of the country earlier this year. Japan backed the invasion despite its war-renouncing Constitution.
The opposition camp mounted fierce last-ditch resistance to the bill on Thursday and Friday. They submitted a no-confidence motion against the Cabinet to the Lower House and censure motions against Fukuda, Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi and Defense Agency Director General Shigeru Ishiba to the Upper House.
The coalition, however, voted down all the motions.