At a time when public sentiment towards the U.S. forces in Iraq is turning increasingly sour, particularly with the recent incident in which American soldiers opened fire on an Iraqi family traveling in a car, Japan is sending forces to Iraq. Japan’s presence in the region is notable because this is the first time since the end of World War II that Japanese Self-Defense Forces have been ordered into a combat zone. The Japanese constitution prohibits the existence of a standing combat-ready army, just as it prohibits troops from being dispatched to a combat zone. It is thanks to a law that was enacted in the summer of 2003 that Japanese troops are legally able to enter non-combat zones in Iraq. As The Japan Times rightly notes, those critical of sending the Self-Defense Forces argue that no such non-combat zones currently exist in Iraq. While the war may officially be over, the deaths and casualties continue to mount.  

According to a poll published in The Japan Times, the residents in the city of Samawah, located in southern Iraq, may be very welcoming or very opposed to the Japanese troops, depending on their purpose.  Should the Japanese SDF aid in the reconstruction of Iraq, they will be welcome.  Should the Japanese forces appear to support and abet the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, the welcome will be significantly more tepid.  

Given that many Japanese are wary, if not outright opposed, to the deployment of SDF troops to Iraq, the Defense Agency Director General Shigeru Ishiba would do well to consider the purpose and extent of the Japanese presence in Iraq.

Mimi Hanaoka

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