Tough call

IT IS small wonder that Japan's dispatch of military forces on a humanitarian mission to Iraq, is being hailed by the Bush administration as "a historic moment in Tokyo's growing leadership role".

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Published: Tue 3 Feb 2004, 12:11 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 1:14 AM

For one thing, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has taken a huge political risk in deciding to send troops to a dangerously unstable country. The despatch has caused widespread concern at home that the soldiers will be drawn into fighting the insurgents in Iraq. On Saturday opposition parties boycotted a crucial vote in parliament to approve the mission - the first time Japanese troops have been deployed in a combat zone since World War II. For another thing, the United States desperately needs helping hands to fix what it broke in Iraq. Although the Japanese contingent is just 1,000-strong and it will be deployed in the relatively peaceful south, there is no denying the symbolic significance of the mission. Countries willing to send soldiers to Iraq, whether for combat or humanitarian purposes, are hard to come by, so any additional presence will always be welcome from Washington's standpoint. The advance teams already in the southern city of Samawa have been received warmly by ordinary Iraqis, but this does not mean that dangers don't lurk around the corner. The faceless killers who are bent on destroying Iraq's ethnic and social fabric did not spare even UN employees; as allies of America, the Japanese therefore should have no illusions about the hazards of their Iraq mission.

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