| Iraqis loot one of the burned-out cars in which seven Spanish intelligence agents were killed on Sunday. (AP)
Tokyo, Nov. 30 (Reuters): Gunmen ambushed and murdered two Japanese diplomats and their Iraqi driver in northern Iraq, piling new pressure on the Tokyo government as it weighs a decision on sending troops to help rebuild that country.
An angry Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi vowed today not to be blown off course by yesterday’s deaths — the first of Japanese in Iraq since US-led forces invaded in March. “Japan must not give in to terrorism,” Koizumi said. “We will firmly carry out our responsibilities for humanitarian aid and reconstruction (in Iraq). There is no change in this. “Why does this kind of thing happen' I am furious.”
The foreign ministry later advised all Japanese non-diplomatic citizens to leave Iraq due to the security risk.
News of the murders can only deepen the dilemma for Koizumi, who must balance demands of vital security ties with the US with concerns of domestic voters, who are increasingly nervous about the dangers involved. A senior leader of Japan’s main opposition party expressed outrage and demanded a special session of parliament to deal with the issue.
In a sign of trouble, Katsuya Okada, secretary-general of the main opposition Democratic Party issued a statement expressing “strong anger and dread”.
Foreign minister Yoriko Kawaguchi told a news conference that diplomats Katsuhiko Oku, 45, and Masamori Inoue, 30, were killed in the attack, which occurred near Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, 175 km north of Baghdad. The diplomats’ Iraqi driver was also later confirmed to have been killed, a Japanese official said.
Kawaguchi called the ambush “unforgivable”, but said Tokyo was undaunted in its determination to fight terrorism and help rebuild Iraq. Earlier, he said that Japan would continue to carefully assess the situation to decide when it could send troops to Iraq.
Toshimitsu Motegi, a cabinet minister who had worked with Inoue, said: “I’m sure they’d be upset if their deaths made Japan stop aid — otherwise, what meaning was there to their efforts' We must overcome our grief and go on with reconstruction.”
The two diplomats had been en route to a conference on the reconstruction of northern Iraq to be held in Tikrit, about 10-15 km from the ambush site.
Koizumi, whose coalition retained power in a general election this month, though with a reduced majority, risks a serious blow to his popularity if troops are sent to Iraq and deaths occur, political analysts have said. That would be an especially unwelcome prospect with an election for the Upper House set for next July.
Japan has passed a special law to enable it to send troops to Iraq but, in line with the nation's pacifist constitution, they can only be sent to“non-combat zones” and must take part only in reconstruction and humanitarian work.