GSDF exit from Iraq not without its dangers

by Reiji Yoshida

The Ground Self-Defense Force exit from south Iraq has just begun and the pullout is not without its dangers, which could range from insurgent attacks to oppressive heat, the unit commander said Wednesday from Samawah.

The 600 troops from the 10th GSDF contingent now in the city have already begun loading equipment into shipping containers, Col. Toshihiro Yamanaka said in a teleconference with reporters in Tokyo.

“Withdrawal of the rear guard, as they used to say in the old days (in actual battles), always involves difficulties,” Yamanaka said. “We need to pay more attention to safety than ever, as new threats are expected.”

Yamanaka’s unit got the order from Tokyo on Tuesday to leave for Kuwait, later this month. The pullout is expected to take 1 1/2 months.

The surface temperature under direct sunlight may hit near 60 in Samawah on some days, Yamanaka claimed.

“We have been here more than one month, so we are acclimatized,” he figured.

“But it’s difficult to keep working long in the direct sunlight, and it’s very hot inside (the large shipping) containers,” he said, adding that packing up the camp will be very tough work.

When the troop convoys start heading to Kuwait, they could face the risk of roadside bombs, although throughout the 2 1/2-year GSDF deployment, the troops never came under any serious attack threat or suffered casualties.

The GSDF will carefully choose the route and schedule after gathering intelligence on insurgent attacks and movements from the Iraqi Authority and coalition forces, Yamanaka said, adding, “We’d hope to have a smooth, safe withdrawal.”

Yamanaka said Samawah’s citizens have praised the GSDF for its work to repair infrastructure, provide drinking water and assisting with medical care.

Aid to stay: Nukaga

Staff report

Defense Agency chief Fukushiro Nukaga met Wednesday with Iraqi Ambassador to Japan Ghanim al-Jumaily and iterated Tokyo’s pledge to continue assisting Iraq after the pullout of Japanese troops from the southern Iraq city of Samawah.

The envoy expressed “deep appreciation” for the reconstruction aid provided by the Ground Self-Defense Force unit, saying they did “a wonderful job” and left a good impression on the Iraqi people.

“The GSDF will withdraw, but we will continue providing assistance to Iraq,” Nukaga was quoted as saying by Japanese officials after the meeting at the Defense Agency.

In response, al-Jumaily said the Air-Self-Defense Force airlifts in support of the U.N. and coalition forces, which will continue, are “a symbol of Japan’s commitment” to Iraq.

Kurds’ A-bomb show

CAIRO (Kyodo) The Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations (Hidankyo) and a group honoring Iraqi Kurds massacred by Saddam Hussein in 1988 are holding the first exhibition in Iraq on the 1945 atomic bombings.

The exhibit opened Tuesday in Arbil and will run until Wednesday. It will move June 29 to Halabja, where about 5,000 Kurds were killed in March 1988 in a poison gas attack by government forces.