Col. Koichiro Bansho, who headed the first contingent of Ground Self-Defense Force troops to Iraq, said Wednesday he expects Japan’s assistance for the war-ravaged country to expand further.

“It isn’t that we used 100 percent of our ability for humanitarian assistance in a pure sense,” Bansho, 46, said in a telephone interview with The Japan Times from his GSDF base in Nayoro, northern Hokkaido.

He said the main mission of the first contingent was to form a solid basis for Japan’s whole aid mechanism for Iraq by building a camp, accommodating troops and equipment, and building a relationship with local people. The troops are based in the southern Iraqi city of Samawah.

“I think Japan’s real aid will grow from now on by the work of the second and the following contingents, together with the official development assistance program initiated by the Foreign Ministry,” he said.

Bansho returned from Samawah on May 31 with about 140 GSDF members under his command, the last unit of the 550-strong first contingent of GSDF troops who provided humanitarian aid such as water purification and medical aid. Their mission has been taken over by replacement troops from Japan.

He said he took pains to make sure the locals understood “what we can do and what we cannot.”

“They knew Japan is a big power and had this dream and expectation that our going to Iraq would solve every problem of Samawah and the al-Muthanna Province,” he said.

Iraqis from Samawah who visited Japan in late May, including religious leaders and doctors, said they want Japanese private-sector companies to join in the reconstruction effort.

“There are two types of jobs here, one is to rebuild destroyed facilities, the other is to build new ones,” Iraqi doctor Bashar Abdul Sattar Sadiq said.

He thanked the GSDF for helping to rebuild roads and schools, but said Iraq needs the helping hands of civilians to do the larger work.

The Iraqis who visited Japan said they want the Foreign Ministry to better understand their situation.

The ministry said it has stationed more than one official in Samawah since late last year, but the Iraqis said they rarely get a chance to meet them.