S. Koreans protest plan to send 3,000 more troops to Iraq

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA — SEOUL, South Korea - The beheading of a South Korean hostage Tuesday in Iraq provoked demonstrations yesterday against plans to send 3,000 more troops to Iraq this summer. But it also set off an angry backlash.

Callers deluged mosques with telephone bomb threats, e-mail messages crashed a Defense Ministry Web site with offers to fight militants, and nearly a quarter of the poll respondents at two youth-oriented Web sites said the killing of their compatriot prompted them to back the deployment of more troops.


As intended by the kidnappers, the killing of Kim Sun Il, a 33-year-old interpreter, pumped new life into a movement to stop the plan to send more South Korean troops, a deployment that would make the country the third-largest source of foreign troops, after the United States and Britain. The killing emboldened 50 members of the National Assembly to endorse a motion yesterday to stop the planned deployment.

"The environment in Iraq has changed significantly," the lawmakers said, echoing the sentiments shared by 3,000 demonstrators at a candlelight vigil here last night. But the legislative group is 100 members short of a majority, and South Korea's president, Roh Moo Hyun, is expected to prevail with his plan to send the troops to northern Iraq's Kurdish areas.


"I still feel heartbroken to remember that the deceased was desperately pleading for his life," Roh said in a television address, recalling the video images broadcast here that showed Kim crying, "I don't want to die." But "we shouldn't let them achieve what they want through terrorism," Roh said.

With no ties to Iraq other than oil imports, South Korea and Japan seem to be sending troops largely to stay on the good side of the United States, their main military ally. In Japan, the results of a poll published Tuesday in the newspaper Asahi Shimbun showed that 58 percent of respondents oppose the presence of Japanese soldiers in Iraq. In South Korea, public opinion has been more evenly split.

"Anti-American sentiments, and maybe anti-Arab sentiments, will grow further, but I think it is very hard for President Roh to cancel the plans," Kim Dong Choon, professor of political sociology at Songkonghoe University, said yesterday.

"President Roh is going to be damaged politically by this, but I would be very surprised if he retreats," said Selig S. Harrison, a visiting American expert on Korea. "He is in such a box now, he can't retreat."

An unexpected reaction was yesterday's wave of anti-Muslim and anti-Iraqi sentiment.

"An innocent son of our nation was murdered," read one of the many messages that crashed the Web site of South Korea's Defense Ministry. "If you allow me to volunteer for Iraq, I will fight terrorists to avenge his death."

Other messages urged military strikes against militants. The portion of respondents to polls run by the Yahoo and Daum Web sites who said the beheading had prompted them to now back sending more troops increased by 23 percent on Yahoo and 24 percent on the Daum site yesterday.

At a rally in Seoul, conservative protesters said the government should send combat troops to Iraq, instead of military doctors and engineers.


"We want revenge for Kim's killing," the protesters shouted, burning portraits of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born leader of the Islamic militants who beheaded Kim.

After callers threatened to blow up Seoul's main mosque, riot police were posted outside. Amid fears of a reaction against the country's 40,000 Muslims, most of whom are immigrants, police tightened security around 30 other mosques.