SDF free of force’s unified command

The Self-Defense Forces will participate in a multinational force to be formed in Iraq but will not come under the force’s unified command, the government told ruling coalition parties Tuesday.

The explanation was given to the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito as the government sought their support for its plan to have Japanese troops in Iraq join a multinational force after the June 30 transfer of power to the interim Iraqi government.

It will continue humanitarian and reconstruction work in so-called noncombat zones under the existing law and will not be involved in the use of force, according to the outline of the government’s view on the matter presented to the ruling coalition.

The request was widely seen as a formal gesture before the government’s adoption of the policy Friday.

The ruling coalition plans to endorse the government policy Wednesday, and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is expected to explain it at a news conference Thursday.

The opposition Democratic Party of Japan opposed the plan the same day, with DPJ leader Katsuya Okada spelling out the party’s position when the DPJ-led opposition submitted a no-confidence motion against the Koizumi Cabinet.

The policy that Japan will operate in Iraq at its own discretion has been guaranteed through agreements with the United States and Britain, the countries to lead the U.N.-sanctioned force, according to the outline.

The document places importance on Japan keeping SDF troops in Iraq as a “responsible member of the international community,” and says the troops “should continue operations within a multinational force after obtaining legal status and securing an accord from the interim Iraqi government.”

But it also says the troops have the right to reject any requests from the force’s commanders that fail to meet these conditions, and will suspend operations or withdraw should circumstances dictate.

The outline is designed to address public concerns that Japanese troops in a multinational force may be compelled to use force, which would violate the nation’s Constitution. The outline says the troops in Iraq will stay within their own chain of command.

The government believes Japan can maintain control of the SDF troops by interpreting the latest U.N. resolution authorizing a force under “unified command” to mean the force will coordinate operations under a “unified headquarters.”

In a morning Cabinet meeting, Koizumi declared the Self-Defense Forces will continue to engage in noncombat operations under Japanese command in noncombat zones, according to participants.

The SDF “will not use force, even if it participates in a multinational force,” Koizumi later told reporters.

Koizumi explained the policy during an afternoon meeting with his predecessors as prime minister. He said Japan will formally recognize the interim government and assign an envoy to Iraq in line with other countries, participants said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda explained it to the ruling coalition in a meeting with secretaries general and policy chiefs of the two parties.

The government plans to formalize the change in the SDF’s status in Iraq on Friday by revising an ordinance under the special law on the SDF dispatch to Iraq to include the new U.N. resolution.