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Friday, Dec. 9, 2005

SDF mission in Iraq extended; June exit planned

Staff writer

The government formally endorsed a revised plan Thursday to extend the Ground Self-Defense Force's humanitarian mission in Samawah, southern Iraq, for another year while at the same time signaling the troops' withdrawal by next summer.

With Thursday's Cabinet approval to extend the GSDF's Iraq mission, the government will now map out an exit strategy.

The government appears to be debating the GSDF pullout not based on the assistance Iraq needs for reconstruction but on other factors, observers said, including one who suggested the timing has more to do with the September election for the presidency of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

The revised Self-Defense Forces dispatch plan says the government will make its decision after considering the progress of reconstruction, the development of Iraq's political process and the security situation.

As earlier reported, the plan also states the government will assess the "activity conditions and changes in the composition (of other multilateral forces), including the British and Australian forces in Al-Muthanna Province," where the GSDF troops are based.

The observers have said Japan's withdrawal strongly depends on the timing of the British and Australian force pullout and the domestic political situation.

Koizumi repeated Thursday that Japan will make an "appropriate judgment" by closely cooperating with Britain and Australia, and considering the security situation in the area.

Australia has indicated to Japan that it will withdraw its forces from the region in May, government sources said.

But Japan had already made the decision to pull out.

Japan told the United States in November that it will begin to withdraw the GSDF troops in June and complete the pullout by the end of August, a senior Foreign Ministry official said.

Satoshi Morimoto, professor of security issues at Takushoku University, said the domestic political situation is behind the government's decision and Koizumi wants to withdraw the troops he had deployed before his term as LDP president ends in September.

"If the troops are still in Iraq by then, it will be a major issue in the upcoming LDP presidential election," Morimoto said. "To avoid that situation, he wants to pull out the troops by then."

And if the troops leave Iraq, there is the question of what Japan would do to participate in Iraq's reconstruction.

Former Defense Agency chief Yoshinori Ono said it is important for Japan to replace the GSDF with "a second runner" -- civilian workers who will take over the humanitarian mission.

"It is essential for nongovernmental organization officials or Japan International Cooperation Agency officials (who carry out aid projects) to enter Iraq and show that Japan's support is not over," Ono said in an interview.

He expressed concern that the security situation still may be too unstable for civilians to enter the country after the troops withdraw.

However, he said if civilians did not take over the work, it would break the continuity of Japan's assistance.

During an LDP policy panel meeting on diplomacy and security matters Tuesday, Foreign Ministry officials said their staff could send instructions for new official development assistance projects from outside Iraq if the security situation was not stable enough for them to work in the country.

Morimoto of Takushoku University said Japan's policy on SDF overseas dispatches tended to change since the government enacts a new law for every deployment.

He said Tokyo needed to have a law on SDF overseas dispatches that would state the government's exit strategy from deployments.

"When the SDF is dispatched, it is important to map out details of the SDF mission and specify that it will pull out when the mission is accomplished," Morimoto said. "The criteria would be whether the mission has been achieved and not about the period of time it has been dispatched."

Thursday's approval drew fire from opposition parties.

Koizumi met with leaders of the LDP's coalition partner, New Komeito, and the Democratic Party of Japan, Social Democratic Party and Japanese Communist Party to explain the state's decision.

Each opposition party was against the extension, DPJ Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama told reporters after meeting with Koizumi.

All three opposition parties are against the dispatch of the troops to Iraq.

Blair, Iraqis happy

The Iraqi Embassy in Japan and British Prime Minister Tony Blair welcomed the Japanese government's decision Thursday to extend the mission of the Self-Defense Forces in Iraq.

Blair sent a message to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, saying he "warmly" welcomes the extended mission, knowing that the "decision cannot have been easy."

Koizumi assures king

Jordanian King Abdullah II and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi agreed Thursday to continue cooperating on Iraq's reconstruction, Foreign Ministry officials said.

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The Japan Times

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