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Special Reports Last Updated: Jan 4th, 2007 - 01:08:31

Japanese SDF�s oil mission in Iraq
By Shirzad Azad
Online Journal Guest Writer

Dec 15, 2006, 01:21

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The Japanese media have started questioning the government�s decision of extending the Air Self-Defense Forces (ASDF) in Iraq until July 31, 2007. The ASDF started airlifts from Kuwait in March 2004 under a July 2003 ad hoc law to carry out Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces (GSDF) deployment for non-combat activities in Iraq.

Initially, the ASDF�s airlifts were for supporting the GSDF troops stationed in the Iraqi city of Samawa on a humanitarian and reconstruction assistance mission. Japan withdrew its GSDF from Iraq in July, and since then the nature of the ASDF�s activities in Iraq has systematically changed.

From July onwards, the Japanese ASDF has been assisting the U.S.-led multinational forces by transporting troops to Baghdad, as well as supporting U.N. teams in Irbil. The ASDF also carry out goods for the coalition forces and the United Nations, and make occasional flights when requested.

An editorial by The Japan Times points out that the government has not explained why the ASDF deployment has to be extended when the U.S. Congress is increasingly skeptical about the Iraq war, and more importantly, the Iraqi Study Group (ISG) has suggested a gradual withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.

The Japan Times then asks why doesn�t the government disclose what goods the ASDF aircraft are carrying and for what organizations? The editorial expresses its regret that the Japanese government made the decision without providing the Diet (Japanese parliament) and the public with concrete information on the ASDF�s activities in Iraq.

Based on another article from a Yomiuri Shimbun�s staff writer, the ASDF�s activities have deviated from the main purpose of the ad hoc law. The primary purpose for dispatching Japanese troops to Iraq was to offer humanitarian support, and with their assistance, help the Iraqi people to reconstruct their country. �Such a rational might have been appropriate for the ground troops that had direct contact with Iraqis,� The Yomiuri says.

Basically, as the United States fooled the whole international community over its real intention of invading Iraq, the Japanese government has so far withheld the main reason behind its full cooperation with the Bush administration in Iraq.

The majority of the Japanese people opposed the Iraq war and questioned former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi�s blind endorsement of American assistance requests for the war and the aftermath. The majority of the public disputed the government�s decision of sending Japanese Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to Iraq in December 2003, and considered the action as an obvious indication of violating the constitution.

From the beginning, oil was the common goal of both Washington and Tokyo in Iraq, and Japan�s full support of the U.S. invasion was merely a means of re-establishing its economic and commercial presence in that war-torn and oil-rich country. The Japanese government saw its backing for Bush�s misguided Middle East policy as a way of strengthening Tokyo�s access to huge energy resources in the region and acquiring lucrative business contracts in post-invasion Iraq.

The Middle East is the chief supplier of Japan�s imported oil, and to keep permanent access to this oil plays a determining role in Japanese foreign policy toward the region. Resource-poor Japan imports nearly all of the oil it consumes, and almost 90 percent of that comes from the turbulent and volatile Middle East, with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Iran as its three major crude-oil exporting partners, respectively.

As a basic national security consideration for Japan, Middle East petroleum has long influenced all elements related to Japan�s Mideast policy, though its impact on the country�s decision has often been downplayed in official pronouncements.

The bitter experiences of the 1970s and 1990s have taught Japan that who controls the flow of Middle Eastern oil, dictates the terms. During the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War, while Tokyo contributed $13 billion over the course of the U.S.-led war against Saddam�s invasion of Kuwait, Japan was largely left out of the negotiations over the future of the region and lost ground in commercial investments and economic projects in the Middle East. Human sacrifice by the Japanese forces and if necessary, �blood for oil,� was the only thing that could please the United States in that oil war, which Japan stubbornly refused to accept.

The possible consequences of an Iraqi resistance were well understood despite U.S. expectations in another oil conflict in 2003. Tokyo hoped this time its military cooperation with the United States and generous financial pledges to Iraq would be rewarded with access to the country�s extensive oil resources and other profitable business deals, the logic that seems to be paying off.

Shirzad Azad is an East-West Asian relations researcher in the Graduate School of International Politics, Economics and Communication, Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo, Japan.

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