Government officials expressed satisfaction Friday over the successful conclusion of the Self-Defense Forces missions in and near Iraq, but some experts complained that the pullout was long overdue.
“There were at least three previous opportunities for the Air Self-Defense Force to withdraw from Iraq,” said Tetsuo Maeda, a military journalist and author of several books on the SDF.
The ASDF could have joined the Ground Self-Defense Force in 2006 or departed when the Nagoya High Court ruled in July 2007 that the dispatch was unconstitutional, he said.
“It was also an opportunity for withdrawal when it became clear there were no nuclear weapons in Iraq,” Maeda added.
Although the pullout comes as the U.N. mandate of U.S. forces in Iraq expires, the move had more to do with U.S. President George W. Bush exit from the White House and President-elect Barack Obama’s shift of focus to Afghanistan, Maeda speculated.
He summarized the SDF’s five-year efforts as “just tagging along with the strategies set by the United States.”
Regarding the impact of the SDF dispatches, the expert acknowledged the GSDF supported Iraq’s infrastructure rebuilding.
But the ASDF has not disclosed the content of the material it transported or identified the personnel airlifted, throwing a shroud over the mission.
“It’s easy to believe the airlifts had more to do with cooperating with U.S. forces instead of rebuilding Iraq,” Maeda said.
Yoshinori Ikezumi, who led plaintiffs who filed a suit against the dispatch in 2004, expressed relief that the mission was ending.
“This was a historical incident in which the government continued to practice an unconstitutional act for nearly five years,” he said.
Ikezumi and some 3,200 others argued that the activities in Iraq by the SDF violated the war-renouncing Constitution and that their right to live peacefully was infringed upon because of the dispatch.
The Nagoya High Court in July 2007 turned down the plaintiffs’ demands for compensation but in the judgment acknowledged the unconstitutional nature of the ASDF activities.
The court deemed that the area of Baghdad plays a part in the use of force by multinational forces, and transporting materials and personnel there can be construed as an unconstitutional use of force.
“Rebuilding schools and supporting hospitals is of great importance, but we must understand that Japan unconstitutionally deployed its forces to Iraq to support the U.S.-led forces,” Ikegami said, criticizing the government and urging it to reconsider its approach on antiterrorism efforts.
Regarding Japan’s next efforts to provide support in the antiterrorism campaign, government officials and critics both fell short of providing details.
President-elect Barack Obama has said his government will shift its forces to Afghanistan, but Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura and Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada denied the ASDF or GSDF would be immediately dispatched to the region.
“The priority now is to extend the special law to allow the Maritime Self-Defense Force refueling mission in the Indian Ocean to continue,” Hamada told reporters.
Ikezumi said that the effect of the Nagoya ruling may linger and affect Japan’s key contribution to antiterrorism efforts.
“Refueling warships in the Indian Ocean is an act of war in light of the Nagoya ruling,” he reckoned, since the judgment ruled that the transport of personnel and supplies “constitutes a key part of combat in warfare.”
“What the MSDF is doing in the India Ocean is unconstitutional,” he claimed.