News that three Japanese civilians had been taken hostage by apparent terrorists in Iraq demanding that the Self-Defense Forces troops be withdrawn from the country drew a mixed response Friday on the streets of Tokyo.
Some of the people interviewed said the government should withdraw the SDF troops — if only temporarily — to save the lives of the captive Japanese, while others said Japan should not cave in to the demands of the abductors and stick to its mission of providing humanitarian aid to Iraqis.
Rika Kawasaki, 37, a clerk at a law firm in Minato Ward, said the Ground Self-Defense Force troops deployed in the southern Iraqi city of Samawah must immediately be pulled out.
“I always thought it’s strange that Japan must always follow the U.S.” in deploying its troops in Iraq, she said on a street in the Yurakucho district of Tokyo. “This time, it’s a matter of life or death.”
A 61-year-old self-employed man said he hoped the incident would prompt the government to reflect on the compatibility of the SDF mission in Iraq and Japan’s war-renouncing Constitution.
“I am aware and respect very much the fact that both Japanese civilians and the SDF are working hard to help reconstruct Iraq,” he said. “But the government has to go back to the fundamental point of whether the SDF dispatch was really constitutional. For the rest, I only wish that these three people come back safely.”
A 65-year-old housewife from Kawasaki said Japan’s first priority is to save the abductees’ lives. She said it might be difficult for the government to withdraw the GSDF troops from Iraq anytime soon due to Japan’s ties with the United States and its present policy on reconstruction in Iraq.
“It was predictable that this kind of incident would happen,” she said on a street in Shinjuku. “We should not have sent the SDF to Iraq.”
Hiroshi Horiuchi, a 32-year-old company employee from Yokohama, said the SDF troops should be withdrawn from Iraq until the hostages are rescued.
He said, “Japan should show its own policy” on Iraq. Japan does not need to always support U.S. policy, although good relations with the U.S. are important for Japan, he said.
A 52-year-old company worker interviewed near JR Yurakucho Station said the SDF troops should stay in Iraq.
Whether to withdraw the troops “is a matter of Japan’s dignity,” said the man, who identified himself as Suzuki. He said there is no reason for the GSDF troops to leave, because they are there to help with Iraq’s reconstruction.
Another man said the way the issue is reported in Japan skirts the fact that the three went to Iraq of their own volition.
Part-time worker Hajime Kato, 23, in line for a gallery seat at the Tokyo District Court, said that although the government is obliged to do everything to rescue the three hostages, it cannot be blamed for the kidnapping, because the Foreign Ministry had warned civilians to refrain from traveling to Iraq.
“I think it’s foul play by the Iraqi extremists to kidnap civilian peace activists,” he said. “But it was three Japanese people’s own decision to go to Iraq, and any Western society would consider this (a matter of) self-responsibility.
“The blame the media put on the government is a bit too much,” he said.
Company owner Akio Arakawa, 63, said in Shibuya that giving in to the demands of the kidnappers could lead to an escalation in their terror activities.
Arakawa also said an SDF pullout would hurt Japan’s ties with the U.S.
“If the government withdraws the troops, I am afraid the U.S. and other countries would regard Japan as a coward,” he said.
The Japanese government should meanwhile make every effort to rescue the hostages, he said.
Near JR Shinjuku Station in Tokyo, Yoshihiko Moriyama, 42, who works at a telecommunications company, said Japan should not compromise with the kidnappers.
“I think these civilians must have been aware of the risks of going to Iraq,” he said. “We should handle this situation calmly, not emotionally.”
The government “should try to negotiate with (the kidnappers) and make utmost efforts to rescue the three, but whether Japan withdraws the Self-Defense Forces (from Iraq) is a different issue,” he said.
Student Kozue Ito, 18, said the SDF troops should stay in Iraq to support reconstruction efforts. She said she hopes the three Japanese are released.
“Japanese (civilians) should not go to Iraq,” she said. “I was surprised that Japanese (civilians) are still working in such a dangerous country.”
Part-timer Toyoko Tanaka, 51, said human life is important and that it is difficult for her to say whether the government should withdraw the SDF troops from Iraq.
If the troops are withdrawn, their mission would be left unfinished, she said.
“Tax money has been spent for the SDF activities in Iraq,” she said.
She said the money would be wasted if the troops are pulled out.