ASDF’s Iraq mission to end by December

Kyodo News

The Air Self-Defense Force’s mission in the skies over Iraq will come to a close by the end of this year when the current U.N. resolution authorizing deployment of multinational forces there expires, sources said Tuesday.

Barring an unlikely extension, it will mark the end of Self-Defense Forces operations in Iraq, where Japanese troops have served since 2004 under a special law supporting the reconstruction of the war-torn country.

Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Bunmei Ibuki said at a news conference the government and the ruling coalition will “have difficulty” legitimatizing the presence of the ASDF once the U.N. resolution expires in December because it is operating in the skies “of a certain country with sovereignty.”

Several government sources also noted the difficulty of continuing the mission beyond the end of the year.

Meanwhile, some in the government have suggested that Diet approval is unnecessary to conclude a status of forces agreement with Iraq, which would be required to continue the mission next year, because it would not require any legal revisions or budget.

But the government and the ruling LDP-New Komeito coalition have apparently grown wary of sparking a Diet debate due to possible resistance from the opposition parties, which control the Upper House, over the Iraqi mission.

A SOFA would exempt ASDF personnel in Iraq from local criminal prosecution and taxation.

Under the special law for Iraqi reconstruction, enacted in July 2003, the Ground Self-Defense Force provided noncombat support for 2 1/2 years in the southern city of Samawah before withdrawing in July 2006.

The ASDF, based in Kuwait, remains involved in airlift activities for the multinational forces and the United Nations. When the Iraq mission ends, they will come home.

In April, the Nagoya High Court ruled the ASDF activities unconstitutional.

Overseas deployment of the SDF is a sensitive issue under the war-renouncing Constitution. Under the current interpretation by the government, troops cannot be sent to combat zones.