TOKYO – Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi brushed aside concerns Japan may face terrorist reprisals if it sends troops to Iraq, saying Tuesday that Japan should contribute more than money.
"We will not give in to terrorism, we will not give in to terrorist threats," Koizumi told a session of Parliament. "I think our decision to contribute to the development of stable government in Iraq was correct, and I still believe it is."
The fear of terrorism has deepened since Al Qaeda purportedly named Japan as a target if its government follows through on long-discussed plans to send more than 1,000 troops to Iraq to help with reconstruction and other non-combat duties.
Japanese officials emphasize security has been tightened since the Sept. 11 attacks. They say the credibility of the threat against their country — made in statements mailed earlier this month to a pair of London-based newspapers — is uncertain.
Koizumi, whose government has already approved billions of dollars in humanitarian aid (search) for Iraq, said Japan was committed to doing more than opening its wallet. He reiterated that sending troops for non-combat duties remains an option, though plans for a deployment have been put on hold over concerns about deteriorating security.
"I think there are areas in Iraq — reconstruction and humanitarian aid — where the Self-Defense Forces (search) can make a contribution," he said. "We will look hard at the situation on the ground before making a decision about deployment."
But voters in this country are increasingly skeptical such a contribution can be made without lives being lost.
When Parliament passed a landmark law in July approving the deployment of Japanese ground forces in Iraq, it stipulated they could only serve in non-combat zones.
Near-daily suicide bombings and guerrilla attacks in Iraq have eroded support for the mission and forced Koizumi to shelve his plans, while hastily dispatched fact-finding missions try to establish when and where peacekeepers can be safely deployed.
A poll carried Tuesday by the nationally circulated Sankei newspaper showed only 10 percent of those surveyed favored a deployment under current conditions — though another 42 percent said they would approve if the situation became less dangerous.