Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi announced
on December 8 that Japan's Self-Defense Forces
(SDF) would remain for another year in the
southern city of Samawa in support of the US war
in Iraq. Their mission: to provide "reconstruction
and humanitarian assistance".
But what has
the 500-member SDF mission accomplished and at
what cost? How have local people responded to
On July 24, the highway
between the Kuwait border and Samawa
the main artery for maintaining the presence of
the 140,000 US soldiers in Iraq.
trailers and trucks, which have the word
"logistics" on them, form a long line with the
many tankers carrying crude oil. A "keep to the
right three-lane" road has changed into a "both
directions six-lane" road to avoid the traffic
jams made by the US convoys. Cars cross the lanes
from right to left one after another, overtaking
slower vehicles. The rule is that if an oncoming
car emerges, both vehicles must slow and change
lanes to give way.
There are many
four-wheel-drive military vehicles in the lanes.
But it is hard to tell them from the others -
until someone tries to pass and is shown an
automatic rifle. Rules of the road are irrelevant
here in southern Iraq - traffic order is
maintained through "a tacit agreement" that
military vehicles and those with weapons are
always the priority, and others should stay as far
away as possible.
When I visited Samawa,
Iraqi military patrols were all over town, instead
of the US military. I saw neither the SDF, nor the
600 British and Australian military forces that
should have been stationed there. Even during the
long "lunch break", there were few people in the
town and almost all the shops were closed.
Customers started appearing on the streets at
It was common to see Iraqi
solders around Baghdad on compact pickup trucks
wearing knit masks with holes for their eyes,
holding guns at the ready. They were on high
alert. But the alert level in Samawa was not as
high; there were easy-going policemen directing
traffic, sometimes Dutch troops patrolling the
town and police security forces at check points.
However, the situation has changed. Iraqi
soldiers are now on the lookout for armed
"outside" insurgents. Still, Samawa is concerned
about the presence of foreign troops in the city,
and some residents are growing more vocal in their
opposition to the deployments.
maa [water], amal [work]" - citizens
demanded in Arabic before the SDF were dispatched
to the area. But now one hears the resignation,
despair and sometimes hostility toward the SDF
when residents cry out these demands.
Kahrabaa is the most serious
problem. The best-selling product is aircraft
generators sold on the commercial avenue in the
central square of Samawa when the temperature goes
higher than 50 degrees Celsius at noon. The
popular, small-sized model that says "Astra/made
in Korea" costs 85,000 dinars (about US$65).
"After a five-hour blackout, we can have
electricity for only one hour," electronics store
owner Abd-Ali said. "This repeats many days.
However, because of this blackout more and more
people are coming out to buy generators to make
ceiling fans and air conditioners work, since they
can't stand this fierce heat. However, I cannot be
pleased about these good sales, honestly, because
it is such a bad condition."
electric power station will be constructed with
"free financial aid" from the Japanese government.
The location is to be decided and construction is
still a ways off.
The maa problem
is coupled with the kahrabaa situation.
Water is pumped by machines. So, if the
electricity is stopped, water is also. What's
worse, water cannot be pumped into five-story
housing developments. Residents want "the
maintenance of water and sewerage", not just a
As for amal, men
sometimes repair a road or do construction at the
edges of the town, but it's only day labor. There
are many jobless, sitting in the shade around
town. Repairing or repainting school walls and
clinics, as ordered by the SDF, is being done
But such orders spark
criticism: "These are jobs that Iraqis can do on
their own. What and whom are we doing this for?
Instead of this, we need improvement in the
problems of electricity and water."
Residents are increasingly directing their
anger and dissatisfaction at the SDF.
SDF and the Japan Goodwill Association don't
listen to citizens' hopes," one jobless man said.
"What is the SDF doing in Samawa? I have never
seen them working for this whole year and a half.
It was a really peaceful town before the SDF came
Added a mall employee: "If they
don't fix the water and electricity, they are just
like the American troops. Recently, many people
have come to think that way."
there was little criticism of the SDF. Before the
SDF arrived, rumors had spread around Samawa that
Japanese companies such as Sony and Toyota would
be coming to the town to help rebuild it. But
after the SDF moved in, residents realized that
the only chance for economic recovery would come
from the troops.
However, two years later
their hopes and illusions have faded. And
residents now feel that the SDF hasn't solved the
problems of blackouts, water failures and
Demonstrations by supporters
of Shi'ite clergyman, Muqtada al-Sadr, have grown
in popularity. Some protesters have been killed or
wounded in confrontations with police. Previously,
it had been rare to find someone against the SDF
presence; many Samawa residents stood back from
the demonstrations. But this year, increasing
numbers of the young and jobless have joined the
Some of the demonstration
ringleaders are suspected of triggering incidents,
such as firing shells over the SDF camp, or
bombing an SDF car in June. Muqtada loyalists have
denied involvement, though they are clear about
their feeling toward the SDF.
will never forget the [nuclear] bombings in
Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we insist to the Japanese
government that if the SDF continues its presence
here, we cannot deny the possibility that we will
attack the SDF," said Muhammad al-Galawi, a
"As long as they keep
staying here, we regard them as occupation forces.
Thus, the SDF is one of our targets. The
friendship between the SDF and Samawa citizens
will never be produced. As long as they are one of
the occupation forces, we don't see the SDF as the
Japanese military. It is Koizumi's army and what
has been sent by the US military. I used to like
Japan and the Japanese. But because the SDF has
been sent here, this friendship has collapsed,"
"Keeping the presence of the
UK military and the SDF here will lead to a worse
security situation, as in Baghdad. It is not
troops that Iraq needs, but citizens' power. We
will welcome you if you take off your military
uniforms and weapons. I would like Japanese people
to think about the Iraqi side, not just the SDF
Meanwhile, the cost of the SDF
mission is now more than 30 billion yen (US$258
million) though detailed costs have not been
Since the deployment began in
January 2004, the SDF hasn't been able to show
residents any concrete achievements - in spite of
the atmosphere of "friendship, goodwill and
Interaction" the Japanese government has
Now, SDF personnel fear an
invisible "enemy", which appears to be growing in
numbers among disgruntled Samawa residents. There
are concerns those who cooperate with the SDF
could be targeted, similar to what has happened to
those supportive of American forces. As a result,
the SDF and military "areas" are expanding.
The SDF dispatch is no longer an
"international contribution" or "humanitarian
reconstruction aid", as the government has said;
rather now it has become "practical experience"
and "practice" for SDF personnel in a hot spot.
Their presence in Samawa seems aimed at being a
step toward the "next overseas dispatch", with the
revision of Japan's post-war constitution, which
has curtailed the country's military activities.
Yet there is no reason to maintain the SDF
presence in Samawa.