GSDF vehicle windshield damaged in Iraq blast

by Reiji Yoshida

An explosion took place Thursday morning near four Ground Self-Defense Force vehicles in southern Iraq, damaging one windshield, government officials in Tokyo said.

No GSDF troops were injured and all four vehicles returned to the GSDF camp in Samawah with no further damage, the officials said.

The cause of the explosion was not immediately known, and it was unclear whether the incident represented a deliberate attack aimed at the GSDF, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda told a regular news conference.

A spokesman for the Australian military in Iraq, however, said the GSDF convoy had been targeted.

A Defense Agency official who is in charge of the Iraqi mission tried to play down the incident, saying the “explosion was not that big,” as it only caused a crack in the windshield.

Defense Agency chief Yoshinori Ono told reporters that many of the incidents at the Samawah GSDF camp in the past appeared to have been mischief, and not a direct attack on troops.

Since the GSDF first arrived in Samawah in January 2004, there have been a number of cases in which mortar rounds were launched into or near the camp.

Still, the incident has sent shock waves through the government.

“We have to take the incident seriously this time,” Ono said. “If the attack was targeted at the GSDF, the matter is grave.”

The unit was heading toward a ceremony to mark the opening of a road that has been completed under an official development assistance project carried out by the Japanese government, a Defense Agency spokesman in Tokyo said.

The explosion took place 5 km to 6 km east of the the Samawah camp, he said.

The GSDF suspended all activities outside the camp for the rest of the day. It will reinforce security measures for the camp and its units, Hosoda told reporters.

GSDF units are stationed in Samawah on a nonmilitary humanitarian aid mission.

Asked about general security conditions in Samawah, Hosoda said the government was aware of few cases involving terrorist activity in the southern Iraqi city.

The government set up a special liaison office Thursday afternoon at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence to collect more information.