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Opposition parties on Friday reiterated their criticism of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi following the kidnapping this week of three Japanese civilians by militants in Iraq, saying the dispatch of Self-Defense Forces personnel to Iraq caused the crisis.

However, the opposition camp was divided over whether the SDF should be pulled out immediately.

A previously unknown group calling itself the Saraya al-Mujahideen has threatened to burn to death the three hostages — two aid workers and a journalist — unless Japan decides to withdraw the SDF from Iraq “within three days.”

The Democratic Party of Japan said this is not the right time for a withdrawal, adding that it intends to cooperate with the government in efforts to rescue the hostages.

On the other hand, the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party called for the immediate withdrawal of SDF contingents from Iraq.

At a news conference Friday, DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada figured a quick withdrawal of the SDF might be interpreted as caving in to terrorists’ demands. “There is a proper order for doing things,” Okada reckoned. “We must concentrate our efforts on the safe return of the three.”

In separate statements, JCP chief Kazuo Shii and SDP leader Mizuho Fukushima urged the government to pull the SDF troops out of Iraq and rescue the Japanese hostages.

“We strongly fear that the incident was caused not only because the government has unconditionally supported a war that cannot be justified, but also because it pushed the SDF dispatch in violation of the Constitution,” Fukushima said in a statement.

Shii said the SDF units must be pulled out of Iraq to save the hostages’ lives. Besides that, he said, increased security risks now prevent the SDF from carrying out their duties in “noncombat zones.”

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