Rising fears of ‘another Vietnam’

TOKYO: Japan vowed yesterday to make no hasty decisions about its troops in Iraq after explosions near their camp but renewed violence in the country kept Tokyo and Washington's other allies in Asia on edge as some US senators and others raised the spectre of “another Vietnam.” 

US and allied troops have faced a dramatic surge of violence by Sunni and Shi'ite militants this week and the fresh bloodshed is likely to dominate talks during a trip to Asia by US vice-president Dick Cheney beginning tomorrow.  

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer rejected comparisons to Vietnam, raised by Senator Edward Kennedy, among others, in Washington and by critics at home. 

But he said Canberra, a staunch member of the US-led coalition, wanted the outbreak of violence that has claimed more than 235 lives in three days to be quelled so power could be handed over to Iraqis by June 30.  

Japan has already tightened security at its military camp in the southern Iraqi city of Samawa and ordered its nearly 550 non-combat troops to suspend reconstruction activities outside their base until after a Shi'ite religious event tomorrow.  

Several explosions, initially believed to be from mortars or rockets, were heard near the camp on Wednesday and the Kyodo news agency said local authorities had blockaded nearby roads. 

Nothing struck the camp itself and no military personnel were injured, a defence ministry spokesman in Tokyo said.  

Another ministry official later said ingredients used in smoke bombs had been found at the site where one projectile landed. 

“It appears that terrorists are trying to create confusion,” said Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.  

“They are trying to get the Japanese troops to withdraw from Iraq soon.” 

Nudged by the US, Japan has sent troops to Samawa on a non-combat mission to help rebuild Iraq. 

It is Japan's riskiest military deployment since World War Two.  

Critics also say it violates Japan's pacifist constitution. 

Downer, rejecting the link to the Vietnam war, said US-led coalition forces should stay in Iraq after sovereignty is returned. 

Australia sent 2,000 military personnel to Iraq prime minister John Howard has said the remaining 850 troops in and around that country will stay until their job is done. – Reuters  

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