SDF troops staying in Iraq, vows Tokyo

Japan on Tuesday downplayed plans by Spain and Honduras to withdraw their troops from Iraq in the coming months, insisting that its own Self-Defense Forces units will remain in the Mideast country.

Honduran President Ricardo Maduro Joest said Monday he will withdraw the nation’s troops from Iraq, where they are performing duties under Spanish military command.

This announcement came after new Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said he is ordering 1,300 Spanish troops to return home from Iraq as soon as possible.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters Tuesday that Honduras “has its own situation.”

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda meanwhile told a regular news conference: “It’s true the Honduran president said he will not extend the dispatch of the country’s troops (to Iraq) beyond July. But he also said Honduras is prepared to respond to calls by the international community for cooperation (in efforts to help Iraq).”

Earlier the same day, Defense Agency Director General Shigeru Ishiba said Spain’s plan to withdraw its troops “will not change our country’s policy.”

Zapatero’s predecessor, Jose Maria Aznar, was a strong supporter of the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, but Aznar’s Popular Party lost to the Socialist Party in last month’s general election, held three days after the Madrid train bombings, which killed 191 people and wounded some 1,700 others.

“We believe that continuing our humanitarian reconstruction assistance is for the sake of the people of Iraq, necessary for setting up a government by Iraqis and also something needed for the international community,” Ishiba said. “That Spain decided on such a path and started preparing to withdraw its troops will not change our policy.”

The Defense Agency chief noted, however, that Spain’s pullout may have some influence on overall U.S.-led operations in Iraq.