[Viewpoint]Vote on extension after the electionThe Ministry of Defense is considering when to present a motion about extending the stay of the Zaytun Unit troops in Iraq.
The ministry is still contemplating extending the time, even though it already obtained approval from President Roh Moo-hyun on Oct. 31.
Circumstances in the National Assembly are causing the hesitation. President Roh has stepped forward and said the Zaytun Unit must stay longer, but the ministry is not optimistic that the motion will pass in the National Assembly. Instead, it seems more likely that it will be voted down.
That’s because the United New Democratic Party, which had maintained a strategic ambiguity on the extension, announced its opposition to the plan on Oct. 11.
Aligned with the Democratic Labor Party, which opposed the deployment of troops altogether, the two have 150 assembly seats, more than half of the National Assembly, enough to vote the motion down. Moreover, some Grand National Party lawmakers, such as Go Jin-hwa and Bae Il-do, also oppose the extension.
The voices opposing the extension seem to be speaking with political considerations along with the usual ideology. A considerable number of citizens oppose the extension, and it is a good issue for bringing supporters together.
It is hard to dismiss the feeling that the extension is being used politically in the midst of this presidential election season.
The United New Democratic Party and the Democratic Labor Party advocate “fulfilling the promise made to the citizens” and getting out of a “war of invasion, lacking justification” as reasons to oppose the extension of the troops’ stay.
Their reasoning is convincing, in its own way.
In a speech to the nation on Oct. 23, President Roh acknowledged, “I am aware that a majority of the people oppose extending the timeline for pulling out our troops.”
However he said, “I decided that it is more important to make a choice for the national interest at this moment.”
He explained the extension is necessary to continue our close collaboration with the United States and because the Zaytun Unit’s peace and reconstruction activities are making contributions to the region’s stability.
Also, the government should take into consideration the fact that Korean companies are increasingly operating in Iraq.
In fact, the Iraqi locals consider the Zaytun Unit “a gift from God.” Since the unit was deployed in September 2004 to Arbil, Iraq, the troops have been leading the reconstruction of the region.
Without firing a single bullet so far, the troops are devoting themselves only to non-combat operations, providing help in everyday life with medical assistance and technical training.
The Zaytun Hospital has treated 68,000 locals residents each year. The Technical Training School, which offers seven curriculums, has educated 1,645 Iraqis, a 78-percent employment rate from the graduates.
The Technical Training School is so competitive that only one out of six applicants can be accepted.
Korean companies have been permitted to operate in the Kurdish region starting this year, and they have received $353 million worth of orders as of October, a huge increase from last year’s $17 million.
Also, Korean companies are negotiating large-scale projects in Iraq, such as the construction of power plants and roads.
Minister of Defense Kim Jang-soo expressed concern on Nov. 2 that if the National Assembly rejects the motion, it would have a tremendous impact on Korea-U.S. relations.
The extension of the deployment is a central issue in the presidential election.
The politicians are bound to take a stance, depending on the interests and strategy of their parties, before the election.
They find themselves in a position unable to take the national interest as a priority.
Therefore, I would like to propose that the National Assembly vote on the motion following the presidential election.
The 269th session of the National Assembly ends on Dec. 9, and it won’t be easy to handle all the pending issues, from the 2008 budget to various welfare issues for the 18th general election.
The National Assembly could hold a special session right after the presidential election to deal with the extension of the Zaytun Unit deployment, along with other issues involving the regular session.
The United New Democratic Party’s floor leader Kim Hyo-seuk and his Grand National Party counterpart Ahn Sang-soo should demonstrate political leadership.
*The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Chul-hee