Japan Leans Toward Pulling All Troops From Iraq By September
Japan's exit policy in Samawah is pointing toward a complete troop withdrawal by September, when Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is scheduled to step down as the nation's leader, sources said Friday.
The U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq has been asked to remain in the country for a limited period of about three months after the new Iraqi administration kicks off, likely at the end of this year. Tokyo concluded that pulling the Ground Self-Defense Force out of Iraq after the three-month period would be possible, the sources said. If the withdrawal plan is given the official green light, the GSDF troops could start returning home in the first half of next year. Koizumi "intends to seek closure while he is still in office because he is the one who decided to dispatch the SDF troops," a government official said. Japan has stationed ground troops in Samawah, southern Iraq, since early 2004. Their humanitarian mission is scheduled to end on Dec. 14, but Koizumi is expected to extend it by six months to a year. Currently, about 500 troops are in the city. The government also intends to continue and even expand the Air SDF's transportation support duties after the withdrawal of the ground forces from the war-torn country, the sources said. The ASDF currently transports humanitarian goods and U.S. military supplies between Kuwait and southern Iraq. "The transportation needs of materials related to U.S. troops still remain high," a senior Defense Agency official said. The ASDF might later increase its transport routes to cover other points in Iraq. The ASDF may also start flying between Kuwait and Qatar, where the U.S. central command is located, the sources said. The GSDF's support activities in Samawah include restoring public facilities such as schools and supplying water for residents. The government believes the GSDF has performed its role in supporting Iraq, the sources said. For example, water purifiers were installed in February this year using Japan's official development assistance. A senior Defense Agency official said, "Since the GSDF's activities are not directly linked with security duties, other countries' operations won't be influenced even if the troops are pulled out." Some government officials speculate that Britain and Australia, whose militaries are in charge of security in southern Iraq, are considering withdrawing their troops. For that reason, Japan will decide the timing of its own withdrawal through discussions with the United States, Britain, and Australia, the sources said. "When the new Iraqi administration is stabilized, even the U.S. would accept the withdrawal of the GSDF," a government official said. Iraq approved its new Constitution in October and is expected to hold a general election on Dec. 15, enabling the country to launch the new official administration later that month. The provisional Iraqi government said two to three months would be needed to see if public safety can be secured after the new government takes shape, a Japanese government official said. Tokyo speculates the GSDF withdrawal would take about three months to complete. "We could take about three months to pull out starting from June," a former foreign minister said. The basic plan that regulates the contents of SDF activities based on Law Concerning the Special Measures on Humanitarian and Reconstruction Assistance in Iraq will expire on Dec. 14. The government is set to extend the basic plan, but Koizumi's announcement of the decision will likely be delayed until December. Some officials have suggested an extension of one year in light of a decision by the United Nations Security Council allowing the multinational force to remain in Iraq until the end of 2006. If the six-month extension is decided, it would be legally acceptable for some GSDF troops to stay in Iraq until September, as long as they start pulling out within the half-year period.