P. S. Suryanarayana
Troop pullout likely to be completed in about two months
SINGAPORE: Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Tuesday announced the withdrawal of his country's troops from Iraq. No timeline was formally set, but officials in Tokyo later hinted that the pull-out would be completed in about two months.
With this, Mr. Koizumi is calling off a political exercise that began nearly two-and-a-half years ago and remained highly unpopular among the Japanese people.
He often cited the compulsions of Japan's security alliance with the United States to justify the deployment.
Mr. Koizumi described the decision as a "redeployment" of Japan's military personnel who were sent to the Samawah region of southern Iraq on an explicit "non-combat mission of reconstruction."
Somewhat offsetting the pull-out move, though, Mr. Koizumi said a unit of Japan's "Air Self Defence Force" would now operate flights to the Iraqi zones of Baghdad and Erbil from neighbouring Kuwait.
The aim was to provide non-lethal logistical support to the United Nations personnel and the combat-ready multinational forces led by the U.S.
Deployed on the basis of special laws, which Mr. Koizumi got enacted to overcome the restrictions of Japan's pacifist Constitution, over 5,500 troops belonging to the "Ground Self Defence Force" (as the army is known) have served in Iraq. The last rotational batch that remains to be withdrawn numbers around 600.
The Japanese troops in Iraq have been protected by the Australians, in particular, among the multinational forces.
U.S. Democrats' call
Australian Prime Minister John Howard on Tuesday maintained that his country's units, which were so far mandated for this purpose, would be redeployed within Iraq "after the Japanese have gone."
PTI reports from Washington: Leading Democrats in the U.S. Senate have renewed their call for withdrawal of troops from Iraq and asked the Bush administration to start the process by year end.
They also presented two plans for winding down U.S. involvement one to pull out combat troops by July 2007 and another to begin withdrawing this year without a timetable for completion.
``Three and a half years into the conflict, we should tell the Iraqis that the American security blanket is not permanent,'' said Carl Levin, top-ranking Democrat in the Senate Armed Services Committee.