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Japan OKs Bill Sending Troops to Iraq

by AP via Washington Post Saturday, Jul. 26, 2003 at 7:14 AM

Military planners are reportedly considering sending a contingent of up to 1,000 combat engineers and other troops for transport and construction duties.

Japan OKs Bill Sending Troops to Iraq

The Associated Press

Friday, July 25, 2003; 12:54 PM

TOKYO - Japan's Parliament approved a bill early Saturday that authorizes Japanese forces to help with reconstruction in Iraq, despite delaying tactics by the opposition that at one point deteriorated into a wild shoving match during a committee meeting.

It was a major political victory for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who has campaigned hard to send peacekeeping troops overseas as he seeks to raise Japan's profile on the world stage and distance his administration from the "checkbook diplomacy" for which the world's second-richest nation was criticized during the 1991 Gulf War.

Opposition parties criticized the legislation, saying such peacekeeping missions could violate Japan's pacifist constitution and put its troops in the line of enemy fire.

The legislation appeared headed for approval after it passed an upper house committee with support from Koizumi's three-party coalition, which controls a majority in both chambers of Parliament.

During the committee meeting, outraged opposition legislators shouted and tried to push their way through a ring of ruling party lawmakers to get at the committee chairman, who had cut short the debate to call a vote. As the grappling and tackling spiraled out of control around him, the chairman called a vote and rammed the bill through.

The full upper house convened after midnight, and the ruling coalition mustered enough votes to pass the bill.

Opposition lawmakers had tried to stall discussion and passage of the legislation for days, submitting one censure motion after another against Koizumi, his Cabinet ministers and other ruling party officials in Parliament with long filibuster-style speeches and slow-motion voting. But the censure motions - largely symbolic - were defeated, the oppositions' efforts in vain.

Koizumi accused the opposition of political grandstanding.

His ruling party had vowed Friday to convene Parliament over the weekend if necessary to ensure the peacekeeping bill was passed before the current legislative session ends next Monday.

"We will pass the bill during the current parliamentary session, no matter what," Taku Yamasaki, general secretary of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said before the bill passed.

The prime minister has pushed for the peacekeeping bill, which allows Japanese ground troops to provide non-combat support for U.S.-led forces in Iraq. It also gives the government power to dispatch forces to hotspots around the world to offer medical assistance, send refugees home, reconstruct buildings and roads and give administrative advice - even on missions that have yet to receive the United Nations' blessing.

Military planners are reportedly considering sending a contingent of up to 1,000 combat engineers and other troops for transport and construction duties.

Small Japanese military contingents have participated in several U.N. peacekeeping operations since 1992, most recently in East Timor.

The United States is having mixed success in recruiting others to help it, and close ally Britain, with peacekeeping duties in Iraq.

France, Germany and India have declined to take part. At present, there are about 147,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and 13,000 soldiers from other countries.

Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told U.S. senators on Thursday that Washington is applying "a full court press" for more foreign troops.

Myers said 19 nations have sent troops so far and 15 more have agreed to do so, but the 20,000-30,000 force won't be enough to reduce the U.S. presence in the near future.

U.S. officials have expressed hope that Pakistan and Turkey will also join.

The bill for Japan's participation was approved earlier this month by the lower house of Parliament.

Although ruling party legislators in the upper house rallied behind the bill Friday, a power struggle within the Liberal Democratic Party is escalating as Koizumi's two-year term as head of the party draws to a close in September.

The ruling party picks its leader Sept. 20, and parliamentary elections are widely expected before the end of the year. Koizumi is relatively popular with voters, and the opposition is fragmented and lacks broad public support. But he still needs to win backing in his own party to stay on for another term.

© 2003 The Associated Press

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