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Politics

SDF logs cast doubt over legality of Japan's Iraq mission

Newly disclosed records show forces faced dangerous conditions on the ground

Members of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces speak with locals in Samawah, Iraq, in May 2005. The decision to send troops to Iraq was and remains extremely controversial in Japan.   © Kyodo

TOKYO -- The Japanese Defense Ministry has released part of the Ground Self-Defense Force's activity logs during its mission in Iraq between 2004 and 2006, which are calling into question whether the troops fell within legal requirements to stay in "noncombat" zones.

The ministry on Monday disclosed entries from 435 different days totaling 14,929 pages. The documents were previously believed to have been destroyed, but were recently discovered to have been in the possession of a GSDF unit all along.

About 5,500 GSDF members took part in humanitarian efforts at the southern Iraqi city of Samawah over two and a half years, establishing water and health services and rebuilding public infrastructure. The Air SDF also dispatched around 3,500 service members between 2003 and 2008 to transport materials and people for the United Nations and multinational forces. None of them lost their lives.

Still, the logs disclosed Monday show the SDF faced extremely dangerous conditions on the ground. On June 15, 2005, GSDF vehicles were pummeled by rocks. The entry from that day, which included photos of the incident and of cracked mirrors on the cars, said service members could have easily been hurt.

An explosion occurred near a GSDF convoy about a week later on June 23. The log said it was likely part of an attack against the multinational forces in Iraq. An entry from July 5 said a rocket bomb hit close to the GSDF encampment in Samawah, and that it could be part of serial attack.

Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, center, attends an upper house meeting regarding the Iraq logs on April 10. (Photo by Uichiro Kasai)

"The fighting has grown," said an entry from Jan. 22, 2006. Local fighters had apparently begun shooting at British patrols. Other entries also detailed deteriorating conditions and fighting on the ground.

The SDF was sent to Iraq under a special 2003 law that limited their activities to "noncombat" zones. Then-Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi had also stressed the troops would not be in areas with active fighting, though the Diet at the time was sharply divided on where to draw the line on their activities.

"The SDF was acting in line with the law," Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters on Monday.

But the political opposition has criticized such claims in light of the recently published logs. "The idea of a 'noncombat' zone was an illusion," said Akira Koike of the Japanese Communist Party. "The logs might have been hidden until now to cover up the realities of a war zone."

An upper house committee on foreign policy and defense will deliberate over the Iraq logs on Tuesday.

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