The Self-Defense Forces troops deployed in Iraq have served Japan’s national interests, strengthened the Japan-U.S. alliance and enabled the nation to carry out its responsibilities as a member of the international community, Defense Agency chief Shigeru Ishiba said in an annual agency report released Tuesday.

The report, approved by the day’s regular Cabinet meeting, also states that overseas activities conducted by the SDF over the last decade, including those in Iraq, “are well appreciated both at home and abroad.”

It suggests the agency will seek to make international contributions a main duty of the SDF, along with national defense.

“They have honorably completed the goals of the Iraq mission by making remarkable efforts to win the hearts of local people and to perform their duties safely in the still dangerous land of Samawah,” southern Iraq, Ishiba said in his preface to this year’s defense white paper.

Ahead of the SDF dispatch to Iraq, the government had identified Samawah as a “noncombat zone” — and therefore an appropriate area in which the troops could operate.

The establishment of a democratic regime in Iraq is vital in making the Middle East stable and “is directly linked to the prosperity and stability of Japan,” because the region is the source of 90 percent of Japan’s crude oil, the report says.

There are high expectations that the SDF will participate in international missions, the report says, adding that “to join the framework for peace and stability in international society will, in turn, serve the peace and stability of our nation.”

Under the 1954 Self-Defense Forces Law, international cooperation activities are defined as secondary missions for the SDF, which may be conducted “as long as they do not hinder the task of national defense.”

The issue of how to incorporate international missions into the SDF brief has been a focus of debate at an intra-agency panel tasked with reviewing Japan’s defense posture.

The review started in September 2001, with the panel’s decisions set to be reflected in the national defense policy outline to be updated by year’s end.

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