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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 February, 2004, 16:14 GMT
Warm welcome for Japan's Iraq troops
By Dumeetha Luthra
BBC, in Samawa, Iraq

Japan's deployment of troops to Iraq has been controversial at home, but it has been greeted with high expectations in Iraq.

Colonel Sato
The Japanese unit faces a difficult balancing act

About 100 troops have already arrived in the southern city of Samawa, preparing a camp for a total deployment of 600 - the first time since World War II that Japan has sent forces to a combat zone.

One Samawa woman, Kamila, summed up the task the troops face.

She has to wash plates and pots from lunch in the polluted Euphrates river that runs behind her house, evading the river bank's sludgy moss.

"This is the only water for drinking and washing. Our children become sick from drinking this water because it is so very dirty," she said.

There are about 300 families in the area, and they are all forced to use the river for their daily needs.

There's a difference between the Japanese and the coalition. The Coalition come to Iraq to take everything. The Japanese have come here to help Samawa.
Abbas Mohammad,
Samawa resident

Kamila has a water pipe installed in her house, but it only occasionally has water.

Now the Japanese have been to her village and she hopes that things will change.

"They came here to assess the situation. It's so bad, we want them to renew our village, to provide proper water, electricity, everything," she said.

It is a hope repeated across Mutthana province, where officials estimate 80% of the 500,000-strong population does not have running water and is largely dependent on water trucks.

It is one of the essential services the Japanese have promised to improve.

Their other two specific aims are to improve roads in the region and rebuild hospitals and schools.

Warm welcome

Everywhere you go in Samawa the arrival of the Japanese is big news.

There are banners along the road welcoming the Japanese. In the market, people like Abbas Mohammad talk of new jobs and possibilities. Sipping sugary tea, he even makes a distinction between the other coalition forces and the Japanese.

"There's a difference between the Japanese and the coalition. The coalition come to Iraq to take everything. The Japanese have come here to help Samawa. They want to give us everything we want," he said.

Colonel Sato, commander of the Japanese forces, is more than aware of Iraqi anticipation.

"Iraqi people have very high expectations. So one of the issues for us is to meet these high expectations through our activities. But I think it's impossible for us to meet their requirement by ourselves so we have to co-operate with other agencies and organisations," he said.

It is not just Iraqis who are watching the Japanese troops.

There are more than 400 Japanese journalists registered in Samawa, following every move the soldiers make.

Japan's constitution renounces the use of force
This has been stretched to allow self-defence troops
1992 law allowed troops to join UN and relief work overseas
2003 law said troops could go to non-combat zones in Iraq
PM Koizumi wants to give Japan even greater powers

The deployment is highly controversial back home, because it marks an historic shift in Japan's security policy.

Under Japan's pacifist constitution, troops are only allowed to act in self-defence and the law had to be changed to allow the Iraq mission to go ahead.

Mutthana province and the city of Samawa were chosen exactly because, so far, this has been one of the most peaceful regions in Iraq.

But only last week there was an explosion close to a hotel where the Japanese are staying.

It is a high profile deployment and the danger is it could become a target for that very reason.

Colonel Sato and his unit have the difficult task of balancing Iraqi expectations, with the knowledge that any casualties will have serious political repercussions back home.

Japan soldiers begin Iraq mission
08 Feb 04  |  Middle East
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05 Feb 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Japan's binding ties to the US
19 Mar 03  |  Asia-Pacific

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