While a rocket attack that damaged a storage container at the Ground Self-Defense Force camp in Samawah, southern Iraq, on Monday rattled the government, Japan remained adamant that the area is still a noncombat zone and that the troops can stay.

“(The incident) does not immediately make us consider that Samawah and its vicinity no longer meet the conditions of a ‘noncombat zone,’ ” Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told Tuesday’s House of Representatives plenary session.

Under the special law that allows the Self-Defense Forces to be dispatched to Iraq, the troops can only be deployed to noncombat areas, in line with the war-renouncing Constitution.

At the same time, however, Koizumi added, “Samawah is still a stable area compared with other parts of Iraq, but the security condition is and will continue to be unpredictable, as was shown in yesterday’s incident.”

According to the government, an area is recognized as a combat zone if a state or statelike entity intentionally attacks the SDF in a systematic way. Random attacks by bandits, for example, would not apply.

But Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda later told a news conference that an area could be recognized as a combat zone even if the attacker cannot be identified.

“(That) might be possible if various parties emerge, attacking repeatedly,” he said. “It would be judged on a case-by-case basis, though.”

Government officials said they would review security at the Ground Self-Defense Force camp. The attack comes at a tricky time for the government, which must in the coming weeks decide whether to extend the Dec. 14 deadline for the current troop deployment.

“What I am concerned about is that it is becoming clear that attacks are being directed at the SDF,” Defense Agency chief Yoshinori Ono told his regular Tuesday morning news conference.

But he insisted the agency has taken every measure the security of the GSDF personnel, saying that as long as they are in their quarters in the camp, “there will be few injuries even if they come under mortar or rocket attack.”

The latest attack came just a week after a rocket landed in the camp. The government had considered the Oct. 22 attack a warning shot, because the rocket had no fuse.

Monday’s rocket penetrated a storage container after it bounded along the ground, the Defense Agency said, adding that the ordinance had yet to be found.

As for the extension of the Dec. 14 deadline, Koizumi has said he will decide whether to extend the mission after fully examining the local security situation and the progress made in the reconstruction of Iraq, as well as public opinion.

Troop-pullout bill

The Democratic Party of Japan will submit a bill to the Diet aimed at withdrawing the Self-Defense Forces from Iraq, DPJ sources said Tuesday.

The bill would revise the Iraq reconstruction assistance law under which the troops were sent to Iraq to prevent any extension of their stay there, the sources said.

Under the law, some 550 SDF troops are stationed in Samawah, southern Iraq, for noncombat activities until Dec. 14, but the government plans to extend the period.

The DPJ will introduce the bill in the Diet before the current extra session ends in early December to prevent any extension and demonstrate the party’s continued opposition to Japan’s dispatch of SDF troops to Iraq since early this year, the sources said.

The bill was decided on at a meeting of DPJ lawmakers on foreign and defense policies Tuesday.

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