Iraq handover catches Japan off-guard

Government rushes to legally accommodate sudden transfer of sovereignty

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Monday’s sudden transfer of sovereignty in Iraq to an interim government came as a surprise to the Japanese government.

Japan hastily made necessary legal changes to fill an unintended legal vacuum for the Ground Self-Defense Force troops deployed in Samawah, southern Iraq.

In the evening, the government also gave diplomatic recognition to the new Iraqi government.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hatsuhisa Takashima said an ambassador would be dispatched to Iraq as soon as possible.

The government had anticipated that the transfer would occur Wednesday as scheduled, and made all preparations accordingly. All documents regarding the deployment of the GSDF troops after the handover of power bore the date of June 30.

If no measures were taken, the 550-strong GSDF troops would have been stationed on foreign soil without a domestic legal basis during the two intervening days, even though they effectively became a member of the U.S-led multinational force with the transfer of power Monday.

To avoid a legal vacuum, the government convened an urgent Cabinet meeting in the evening, via telephone, and agreed to rewrite the basic plan for deployment of SDF troops to Iraq and a related government decree, moving up by two days the date when the troops were to assume their new status as part of the multinational force.

Government sources said the Japanese Embassy in Baghdad was notified by the new interim government and the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S. caretaker administration, on Monday afternoon, a few hours before the United States transferred sovereignty to the Iraqis.

The government was unable to hide its confusion.

During an evening news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda had said there would be no legal problem with the deployment of the GSDF troops to Iraq and there were no plans to change the status of the SDF on Monday.

“With the two-day early transfer, a slightly ambiguous situation has emerged,” he said. “But we do not consider that would bring about any special legal problems. “Our current plan is that we will change (the status of the SDF) on June 30 as scheduled.”