SDF going to southern Iraq if LDP wins election

Kyodo

Japan will send Self-Defense Forces elements to the southern Iraq city of Samawa if the ruling coalition comes out on top in the upcoming election, according to a senior Dutch military officer quoting a Japanese fact-finding mission.

The officer said Wednesday that during a meeting earlier this month, senior SDF and Foreign Ministry members of the mission told him that Japan intends to set up an SDF operational base near the Dutch base in Samawa.

The mission returned last week after spending nearly a month in Iraq to study the local security and other conditions. After its return, the government resumed working on its plan to send an advance team of about 100 SDF troops by the end of the year to either Samawa or Nasiriya, another city in the southern part of the country.

Samawa has not experienced any attacks against occupation forces since April and is considered the safest area in Iraq, according to a senior official of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority for the region.

Under a law enacted in July to authorize SDF missions to help rebuild Iraq, activities must be in “noncombat” zones and the use of weapons is restricted to comply with the war-renouncing Constitution.

The CPA official, in charge of the province of Al-Muthanna, where Samawa is located, said the Japanese mission’s interest was “80 percent to 90 percent” directed at Samawa.

Located on the Euphrates River some 250 km south-southeast of Baghdad, Samawa is a strategic stop in southern Iraq. Most of the population of 350,000 to 400,000 are Shiite Muslims. The Netherlands has deployed more than 1,000 troops to maintain order in the area.

In a meeting with Samawa’s city council on Oct. 2, the Japanese mission discussed the possibility of providing water supply and sewerage systems as well as repairing and updating old equipment at a hospital built there with Japanese aid in the mid-1980s, a city council official said.

The condition of the water supply in the province, which is made up of mostly desert terrain, is dire, local officials say.

The discussions followed a 14-point request made by the Samawa council that included assistance in building 25 elementary schools, supplying food to schools, providing medical aid for women and children, sheltering orphans, and rebuilding roads in the city and its vicinity, according to the official.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s top diplomatic adviser, Yukio Okamoto, visited Samawa on Sept. 11 before the mission arrived. He apparently had a favorable impression of the area, the official said, noting the residents there tend to be peaceful and cooperative with foreigners.

Japan is expected to soon pick which city it will send the SDF troops to.

The general election for the House of Representatives is set for Nov. 9 in what is expected to be a race to see whether the Democratic Party of Japan will pose a threat to the ruling tripartite coalition led by Koizumi’s Liberal Democratic Party.