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Thursday, Feb. 24, 2005

Iraqi to detail life under 'occupation' in Osaka suit against SDF dispatch

Staff writer

OSAKA -- An Iraqi journalist will testify Thursday before the Osaka District Court on behalf of a group of Japanese suing the central government for dispatching Self-Defense Forces troops to Iraq.

News photo
Hassen Ali Hassen

Hassen Ali Hassen, who holds a master's degree from Gifu University and has submitted articles to the Chunichi Shimbun since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, will describe his experiences as a reporter in the war-torn country and the conditions under which Iraqis are living.

"The problem in Japan is that there are virtually no Japanese media covering the whole of Iraq -- not just the area where the Self-Defense Forces are," Hassen said. "There are also problems with language and interpretation, as the Japanese media don't always have Iraqis who can interpret properly.

"As a result, ordinary Japanese do not have a clear picture of the overall situation."

In his testimony Thursday, Hassen said he will describe the violence and devastation he witnessed on the streets of Baghdad and other cities over the past couple of years as well as speak about worsening medical services.

"Iraq has plenty of trained doctors," he said. "The problem is not personnel, but supplying proper medical supplies and technology to the hospitals."

He will testify for the plaintiffs in a suit brought by more than 1,000 people who argue the SDF dispatch is in violation of war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution.

Similar suits have been filed in the district courts of Sapporo, Tokyo and Nagoya.

Fumikazu Nishitani, a Japanese journalist who has been to Iraq and one of the plaintiffs, said the Osaka lawsuit is important because Hassen will give "official" testimony about an Iraq that the mainstream Western and Japanese media do not show the public.

"We do not expect to win our case," Nishitani said. "The point is to have an official record from an Iraqi who can provide eyewitness testimony of life in Iraq over the past two years."

While Tokyo insists the SDF troops were sent to the southern Iraq city of Samawah for humanitarian purposes to help rebuild infrastructure, Hassen said Iraqis he spoke with wondered why Japan sent its military to do the task.

"People see Japanese in military uniforms as occupiers," he said. "If Japan were to send qualified (nongovernmental organizations) instead of the military, I think they would be welcomed by many in Iraq."

Nor does Hassen feel the replacement of Dutch troops protecting the SDF by the British later this year will change the image of Japan as an occupying country.

"Unlike the Dutch, the British have a history of imperialism in Iraq that dates back to 1920. Japan's image will not change for the better with the British forces protecting its troops," Hassen said.

Australia said Tuesday it will also send more troops to Iraq to provide security for the SDF.

Hassen said that daily life for most Iraqis is still a struggle. The biggest danger is that it is impossible to tell which areas of the country are dangerous and which are not.

"Things might be quiet in one sector for months at a time," he said. "Then, suddenly, there is a suicide bombing or an attack. There is nowhere that is not a war zone."

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