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Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Koizumi announces pullout of GSDF troops from Iraq
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi announced Tuesday the withdrawal of Ground Self-Defense Force troops from Iraq, signaling the end of the country's first military deployment to an active combat theater since World War II.
"Japan's GSDF troops in the region have played a considerable role in providing humanitarian and reconstruction support," Koizumi said at a news conference at his official residence. "That is why we have decided to withdraw."
The announcement was preceded by a statement Monday by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that Iraqi forces will take over security duties from coalition forces next month in Al-Muthanna Province in southern Iraq, where the GSDF troops are deployed. The British and Australian forces that have been providing security in the area are expected to exit soon.
The announcement puts an end to months of speculation about when the troops Koizumi dispatched to Iraq 2 1/2 half years ago would come home, amid much public criticism. It will allow the troops to leave by the time Koizumi steps down at the end of September.
Following the announcement, Defense Agency chief Fukushiro Nukaga ordered the withdrawal to begin immediately.
Although the troops are expected to be out of Iraq by the end of July, no concrete timeline was set. Pulling the troops back to Kuwait is expected to take about a month and a half.
In an effort to underscore Tokyo's continued commitment to Iraq's reconstruction after the GSDF exit, the government released a statement saying the Air Self-Defense Force unit based in Kuwait will continue ferrying personnel and supplies to Iraq in support the of the U.N. and coalition troops. The airlift will be expanded to include flights to Baghdad and Erbil, the statement said.
The GSDF mission has been limited to noncombat activities under special legislation authorizing the deployment. But concerns lingered that the troops might be drawn into the fighting in Iraq, and questions over the constitutionality of the mission persisted. The Constitution bans the use of force to settle international disputes.
Koizumi said the decision to withdraw was taken in consultation with Japan's coalition partners, including the U.S., Britain and Australia.
The announcement was made after Koizumi met with ruling and opposition party leaders to gain their consent.
Asked whether he had wanted to announce the withdrawal before stepping down in September, however, Koizumi said this was not a factor in the timing. He added that he does not plan to visit Iraq before the end of his stint, for security reasons.