People opposing the dispatch of Self-Defense Force troops to Iraq for humanitarian operations outnumbered those supporting it in a Kyodo News opinion poll taken over the weekend.

The news agency said Sunday that of 1,084 randomly selected eligible voters who responded to the telephone poll, 51.6 percent said they oppose the SDF dispatch, while 42.8 percent expressed support and the remaining 5.6 percent either said they did not know or did not give an answer to the question.

The poll was taken just as an advance team of Ground Self-Defense Force personnel arrived in Kuwait to begin preparations for the scheduled dispatch of the main contingent of GSDF troops, which will provide water supply and medical aid in the southern Iraq city of Samawah.

The first group of the main contingent may go to Samawah later this month for the humanitarian operations to support reconstruction of the war-torn country.

Meanwhile, the survey showed that the approval rating for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s Cabinet was at 52.5 percent, up 8.7 percentage points from a similar survey in early December.

People disapproving of the Koizumi Cabinet was down by 4.5 points to 39.9 percent, Kyodo said.

The survey showed that 32.1 percent of the respondents support Koizumi’s Liberal Democratic Party, up by 2.7 percentage points from December, while 20.4 percent said they support the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, down 2.4 points.

Koizumi’s aides say the rise in the Cabinet approval rating reflects public appreciation of efforts by the prime minister to explain the importance of the troop dispatch, as well as growing signs of economic improvement.

But the poll suggests that the dispatch — the first since World War II in which Japanese troops will set foot in a country where hostilities are taking place — could be a risky business for Koizumi.

Asked what Koizumi should do if some of the SDF troops in Iraq are killed or injured, 35.9 percent of the respondents said he should step down as prime minister, while 50 percent replied he will bear responsibility for the deaths but does not have to resign.

In case SDF troops are killed or injured in the mission, 53.2 percent said the troops should be pulled out of Iraq, outnumbering the 41.9 percent who said Japan should not withdraw the troops.

During a Sunday morning TV program, LDP Secretary General Shinzo Abe and Tetsuzo Fuyushiba, Abe’s counterpart in the LDP’s coalition ally New Komeito, concurred that SDF troops should not be withdrawn even if some of them are killed or injured in terrorist attacks.

Of the respondents who opposed the SDF dispatch to Iraq, 28.6 percent — the largest group — said they are opposed to any overseas dispatch of the SDF, followed by 28.2 percent who cited the danger of the mission stemming from the unstable security situation in Iraq, and 25.6 percent who argued that the war on Iraq itself was not justifiable.

Of those who expressed support for the dispatch, 49 percent said the SDF should be actively deployed in missions contributing to international peace, followed by 25.8 percent who said reconstruction of Iraq will serve Japan’s interests, and 12.5 percent who said it is too risky to dispatch people other than SDF troops to Iraq.

The outcome of the survey indicate that public opinion on the SDF dispatch are not necessarily divided along party lines.

While the opposition camp has expressed opposition toward the dispatch, 29.3 percent of respondents who said they support the DPJ expressed approval of the SDF dispatch. Similarly, 36.2 percent of the supporters of the Social Democratic Party and 12.4 percent of those supporting the Japanese Communist Party replied that they approve of the SDF deployment to Iraq.

On the other hand, roughly 30 percent of people who said they support the LDP and its ally New Komeito replied that they oppose the SDF dispatch, according to Kyodo.

Of the respondents who said they approve of Koizumi’s Cabinet, 51.6 percent — the largest group — said they support him because they find no other appropriate person for the job.

Of those disapproving of the Koizumi Cabinet, 29.3 percent — the largest group — said they cannot expect much from his economic policies.

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