HEADLINE Japan's Abe faces fresh headache over Iraq troop dispatch logs


Japan's Abe faces fresh headache over Iraq troop dispatch logs

By Linda Sieg | Reuters

20:41, April 05, 2018

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government faced criticism on Thursday, after his defense minister said the army last year found activity logs from a controversial 2004 to 2006 deployment to Iraq, but had failed to report them to his predecessor.


Japanese soldiers ride their armoured carriers while on patrol in Samawa, 270 km (160 miles) south of Baghdad December 28, 2005. REUTERS/Mohameed Ameen

The affair comes amid signs that declines in support for Abe might be bottoming out, with ratings of around 42 percent in two recent polls, after a suspected cronyism scandal and cover-up over the discounted sale of state-owed land.

Poor ratings could hurt Abe's chances of winning a third term as leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in a September vote that would position him to be Japan's longest ruling premier, so long as his coalition controls parliament.

On Wednesday evening, Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera revealed that the Ground Self-Defense Force, as Japan's army is known, had located the logs in March 2017 but failed to report them to his predecessor, Tomomi Inada, who had told parliament a month earlier that the records could not be found.


File photo: Japan's Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera (C) arrives to inspect the Ground Self-Defense Force's annual new year military exercise at Narashino exercise field in Funabashi, east of Tokyo, Japan January 12, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

"I would like to report to parliament after strictly investigating whether this was a cover-up," Onodera told an upper house parliamentary committee on Thursday.

Earlier this week, Onodera had said the logs were found in January but he had not been told until March 31.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference the government would decide what steps to take after an investigation under Onodera's "strong leadership".

The Iraq troop deployment, Japan's biggest and riskiest overseas military mission since World War Two, was controversial because the reconstruction and humanitarian activities took place in what experts agreed was a conflict zone.

The government designated the area a "non-combat zone" to avoid violating the pacifist constitution. The logs could shed light on conditions in the area where the troops operated.

Opposition party lawmakers had asked about the records last year while grilling Inada over another set of logs about security conditions in South Sudan, where Japanese troops had joined a peace-keeping mission.


File photo: Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (R) and Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera (L) review the honour guard before a meeting with Japan Self-Defense Force's senior members at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo, Japan, September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

An investigation found that handling of those logs broke some laws and Inada, under fire for other missteps as well, resigned last July.

"Cover-ups are the basic nature of the Abe cabinet. The entire cabinet should resign," Kyodo news agency quoted opposition Democratic Party upper house lawmaker Hiroyuki Konishi as telling the panel at which Onodera appeared.

The fresh revelation coincided with the army's launch on Wednesday of a central command station to oversee Japan's five regional armies, operated separately after World War Two to avoid too much control by the military.

There was no need to worry about civilian control of the military, Onodera told reporters on Wednesday before the Iraq logs disclosure.

"Civilian control is thoroughly implemented, unlike under the pre-war constitution," he added.

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