The Diet has passed a bill to extend by two years the July 2003 ad hoc law to deploy Self-Defense Forces in Iraq for noncombat activities. The Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito supported it, while the Democratic Party of Japan and three other opposition parties opposed it. The aim of the bill is to extend the operations of three C-130 air transports of the Air Self-Defense Force and about 200 ASDF personnel stationed in Kuwait. If the bill had not been passed, the ASDF unit would have had to be withdrawn by the end of July.

Under the law, Ground Self-Defense troops started their humanitarian and reconstruction assistance in Samawah, southern Iraq, in February 2004. They were withdrawn in July 2006. The ASDF aircraft are now transporting goods and personnel for the multinational force and the United Nations to Arbil in the northern Kurdish region, Baghdad and an airport near Samawah.

Although government data on the ASDF’s mission is not detailed, it clearly focuses on support activities for the multilateral force. Regrettably, in Diet discussions, the government did not deal with the question of why the ASDF unit must continue its Iraq mission. Instead, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stressed U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s expression of gratitude for the ASDF’s activities and called for their continuation.

Iraq’s security situation continues to deteriorate with ASDF personnel also in harm’s way. Japan should consider making helpful diplomatic efforts. As the United States has started direct contacts with Iran to discuss Iraq, Japan should take advantage of its rather good ties with Iran to try to facilitate progress.

The enacted bill contains a rider calling for a review of the government’s decision to support the Iraq war. Both the government and the Diet must carry out a strict review so that Japan can develop optimum diplomacy.

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