Japan to end Iraq mission in 2009?

Japanese media report that Tokyo may end its supply support mission for US-led forces in Iraq next year, under pressure from the powerful opposition. Japan has some 210 Air Self-Defense Force personnel in Kuwait, from where they airlift supplies to Iraq. In 2006, it withdrew 600 ground troops sent to southern Iraq as a gesture of support two years earlier. “Thinking about the state of parliament, it is extremely difficult to extend” a special law which enabled the country to send troops to Iraq, the Asahi newspaper quoted Taku Yamasaki of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The law is set to expire in July 2009. The newspaper also quoted an unnamed executive of the LDP’s Buddhist-backed junior partner, New Komeito, as saying it was time to consider withdrawal.

In 2003, then-prime minister Junichiro Koizumi agreed during a visit to President Bush’s Texas ranch that Japan would put “boots on the ground” in Iraq. With Bush set to step down in January, Japan may be set for a change in direction, Asahi said. (Reuters, May 25)

On April 17, the Nagoya High Court ruled that Air Self-Defense Force airlifting of multinational combat troops into Iraq is unconstitutional, as an act integral to other governments’ use of force. But it found the plaintiffs had no standing to demand an end to the airlift. Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said the ruling will not halt the ASDF deployment to Kuwait for the mission, because Tokyo considers Baghdad airport outside the combat zone.

“The ASDF airlift activities run counter to Article 9 of the Constitution,” Judge Kunio Aoyama wrote. “The ASDF mission to airlift armed troops from multinational forces to Baghdad plays a part in the use of force by other countries”—making it complicit with use of force. The 2003 special law states that the SDF will only operate in areas free of combat activity. ASDF C-130 transports in Kuwait continued airlifting personnel and supplies after Ground Self-Defense Force troops ended their “humanitarian” support mission in Samawah, Iraq, in July 2006.

The suit was brought by some 1,100 citizens who sought to end the mission, who appealed after the Nagoya District Court rejected their claims in April 2006. Judge Aoyama sided with the plaintiffs’ claim that the law violates the constitution, but rejected their demand for ¥10,000 each in compensation for psychological pain caused by the deployment. Former Japanese Ambassador to Lebanon Naoto Amaki, one of the plaintiffs, said, “This is effectively a complete victory for us,” calling the decision “historic.” (Japan Times, April 18)

The ruling gives the government little avenue to appeal, as it rejected the plaintiffs’ demand that the mission be suspended as unreasonable. Therefore, the ruling on its unconstitutionality is likely to stand. “Now that it has come to this, we should sue the government for the mental anguish we’ve experienced after engaging in activities that are considered to be in violation of the Constitution,” one SDF officer joked. (Daily Yomiuri, April 23)

The Diet’s upper house has passed a bill to end the Iraq mission.

Japan also has an Indian Ocean naval mission in support of NATO Afghanistan operations.

See our last posts on Japan and Iraq.