'Danger zone' in Iraq changes day by day: JCP Ogata

From June 13 to June 21, a Japanese Communist Party team visited Iraq where sporadic combat still goes on even though the country has been placed under the occupation by the U.S. and British forces since two and half months ago following the downfall of the Saddam Hussein regime.

What is really going on in Iraq? What will happen if Japan sends its Self-Defense Forces to Iraq under the Iraq law which the Diet began to discuss on June 24? The Akahata Sunday edition of June 29 carried an eyewitness account by Ogata Yasuo, House of Councilors member and JCP International Bureau director who led the JCP team.

We found that in Iraq securing safety is a serious matter of concern. In the capital of Baghdad, after dark, the sound of machine gun fire dissuade people from going out. Even in the daytime, some areas in Baghdad are very dangerous.

Public security is even more perilous in distant towns. We visited Al Kut, 200 kilometers southeast of Baghdad and Al Hillah, 100 kilometers west of Baghdad. We saw three Russian-made rifles left in the open in an office of a civic organization. "What are they for?" I asked. They said that an ambush took place in the vicinity the day before and that they needed to keep weapons at hand for protection.

The US-led coalition's ground forces chief Lieutenant General David McKiernan stated that the whole of Iraq is a combat zone. Press secretary Metha of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the organization of the U.S.-British occupation of Iraq, explained that the comment means that military operations of the U.S. forces are being carried out everywhere in the country. In fact, the U.S. forces on June 15, the day we arrived, began a mop-up operation named "Desert Scorpion".

A Red Cross representative engaged in medical services in Iraq said, "Dangerous places will change in accordance with change of circumstances." The Japanese government has a plan to send the Self-Defense Forces to areas south of Baghdad. Such areas are more dangerous than urban areas because animosity towards foreign military forces is stronger than that in Baghdad due to religious customs. Our perception confirms that the demarcation between "areas where combat is taking place" and "the other ares" is a fallacy.

In September 2002, before the outbreak of the war, we visited Iraq.

During my visit at that time, presently destroyed or looted buildings which we remember from our previous visit were painful to see. This visit strongly convinced me of the need for an emotional rehabilitation of the Iraq people along with the reconstruction of infrastructure.

I found the Iraqi people very proud of being descendants of the nation that built the Mesopotamian civilization and that they have strong sense of resistance toward foreign occupation.

An Iraqi told me that during the first week of the U.S. military occupation of Iraq, there was a "welcoming mood" toward the U.S. forces. He said that after one month, people began to feel that "living conditions were worsening", and now, two months later, their feeling has developed into "anger toward the occupation forces".

Both Iraqi people and U.N. agency staff members cited security matters as the biggest concern: Power outages, break-downs of telecommunication systems, shortages of drinking water, and no garbage disposal. These problems are being left unsolved.

The U.S.-British occupation forces are now responsible for maintaining Iraq's public order, as established by international law. But that is not the case on the ground.

Now, the occupation forces are headquartered in a building which Saddam Hussein used as his presidential palace. Tanks are deployed and barbed wires are used to protect the headquarters so as to keep ordinary Iraqi citizens away. In the past, the Saddam Hussein regime was alienated from its people. Although the regime has been replaced by U.S.-British forces, the new authority is also alienated from the people.

Japan needs to support Iraq under U.N. initiative

In Iraq today, the occupation forces are incapable of solving the mounting problems. People's dissatisfaction and anger are growing. Attacks are increasing on the occupation forces by some elements that are taking advantage of the present disorder. U.S. forces are stepping up the mopping-up operations, which in turn fuel people's anger. The situation simply is worsening in Iraq.

In the U.S. military operations, male soldiers carry out body checks on Muslim women who fully cover themselves to avoid exposing their skin to men's eyes. Many Iraqi women avoid having even eye contact with men other than their family members. U.S. soldiers invade their houses in invasive searches.

These activities are damaging the dignity of the Iraqi people and fueling their anger. This tells us that the 'rule' by the occupation forces is completely isolated from the reality and actual needs of the people.

The Koizumi Cabinet is pushing ahead with its plan to dispatch the SDF to Iraq, saying that other countries are doing so. However, U.N. officials in Iraq told us that Japan's SDF should not come to Iraq and that deploying SDF units to Iraq will undermine Japan's good reputation in Iraq.

True, what the Iraqi people need is not Japan's assistance in the military occupation. Pointing out that the Iraqi people are hard working people with high levels of skill, some Iraqis and international NGO officials alike offered the suggestion that input of some technical know-how will be enough to help them embark on a path of development for themselves.

In view of a "emotional rehabilitation" of the Iraqi people, it is very important for Japan to pay attention to such self-help initiatives and the enthusiasm of the Iraqi people themselves.

Such a mission can only be made possible by U.N.-led international efforts. The use of military force to rule Iraq will only alienate them from the people. That's why the need is for international assistance givers and the Iraqi people to join together. U.N.-led activities can take up the task by cooperating with NGOs effectively spreading networks among the residents to help solve immediate problems. Our tour of Iraq convinced us that assisting Iraq under U.N. initiative would be most effective.

In Iraq, we had discussions with charges d'affaires from Germany and France, countries that do not deploy their troops to Iraq. The German ambassador told us that the German government will dispatch civil organizations to build bridges, asserting that it is out of the question for Germany to dispatch troops for Iraq's reconstruction.

Indignation is growing among intellectuals in Iraq against the Japanese government for siding with the U.S. in the Iraq War. We must use every possible means to stop the government plan to dispatch the SDF to Iraq. (end)

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