Ozawa says DPJ may enter bill to kill ASDF’s Iraq mission

Kyodo News

Democratic Party of Japan President Ichiro Ozawa said Tuesday his party will consider submitting a bill in the fall aimed at canceling the dispatch of Air Self-Defense Force troops to help in Iraq’s reconstruction.

Ozawa also reiterated at a news conference his opposition to extending the antiterrorism law, set to expire Nov. 1. The law allows Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels to provide refueling support for multinational forces in the Indian Ocean.

“U.S. President (George W.) Bush started the war in Afghanistan with no concern for the United Nations and the international community, saying that it’s a war of self-defense for the United States,” Ozawa said.

Ozawa called the bill to cancel ASDF airlift operations for Iraq “one option.”

It was his first news conference since the DPJ-led opposition camp gained a majority in the July 29 House of Councilors election, inflicting a heavy defeat on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling coalition. The DPJ topped the Liberal Democratic Party to become the largest party in the Upper House.

Ozawa also expressed willingness to form a joint parliamentary group in the upper chamber with members of the DPJ, two other minor opposition parties — Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party) and New Party Nippon — and independents.

“If we can secure a certain number of seats with one political group, that will be a good thing,” he said.

The DPJ and its allies hold 112 seats, Kokumin Shinto four seats and independents 10 seats in the 242-seat chamber. The seats do not include the president and vice president of the chamber.

The special antiterrorism legislation was enacted following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States. The two-year law has been extended three times so MSDF vessels can continue fueling multinational naval forces in the Indian Ocean involved in anti-Taliban operations in Afghanistan.

Another special law for Iraq’s reconstruction authorizes the deployment of the ground and air self-defense forces.

The ASDF is continuing airlift operations between Kuwait and Iraq, while the GSDF pulled out of Iraq in July 2006 and ended its humanitarian and reconstruction aid in the southern city of Samawah.

New MSDF bill eyed

The ruling bloc, bracing for a confrontation with the opposition, plans to submit a bill for a new law enabling the Maritime Self-Defense Force to continue its logistic support mission in the Indian Ocean to back up the NATO-led antiterrorism operations in Afghanistan, according to government sources.

The coalition foresees a possibility that the opposition camp will succeed in blocking the extension of the current antiterrorism law, under which the MSDF mission is operating, before its Nov. 1 expiration, the sources said.

They added there are strong expectations in the United States and the international community for the MSDF mission to be extended.

The bill for the new law is to be submitted during an extraordinary Diet session to be convened later this month if the current antiterrorism law can’t be extended.

The new bill is expected to be limited to what the MSDF is currently doing, including providing fuel and water to NATO-led warships. The antiterrorism bill entails other operations, including enabling the Air Self-Defense Force to conduct airlifts between U.S. bases in and outside Japan.

The sources said demand for ASDF operations has decreased and, by not including them, the government hopes to lessen the image of Japan merely providing support to the United States.