May 26, 2008 / 4:07 AM / 10 years ago

Japan may end Iraq military mission in 2009 -media

TOKYO, May 26 (Reuters) - Japan may end its supply support mission for U.S.-led forces in Iraq next year, partly because of objections from the powerful opposition, according to media reports on Monday.

Japan has about 210 air force personnel in Kuwait, from where they airlift supplies to Baghdad and other parts of Iraq.

It withdrew its ground troops — sent to southern Iraq as a gesture of support to Tokyo’s biggest ally, the United States — in 2006.

"Thinking about the state of parliament, it is extremely difficult to extend" a special law which enabled the country to send troops to Iraq, the Asahi newspaper quoted ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) heavyweight Taku Yamasaki as saying.

The special law allowing the Iraq mission despite Japan’s pacifist constitution is set to expire in July 2009.

The Tokyo newspaper quoted an unnamed executive of the LDP’s Buddhist-backed junior partner, New Komeito, as saying it was time to think about withdrawal.

Opposition parties have dominated parliament’s upper house since an election last July, and have taken advantage of their position to block many government policies.

The divided parliament clashed earlier this year over military activities, when the ruling bloc pushed through a law which enabled a naval mission in support of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan by passing it twice in the lower house with a two-thirds majority.

The country’s dispatch of 600 ground troops to southern Iraq in 2004-2006 in a non-combat mission was opposed by many voters, who saw it as stretching the limits of Japan’s constitution.

In April, a court said in a non-binding ruling that Japan’s dispatch of the air force troops to Iraq was unconstitutional, but the government said it would press on with the mission.

Then-prime minister Junichiro Koizumi agreed during a visit to U.S. President George W. Bush’s Texas ranch in 2003 that Japan would put "boots on the ground" in Iraq.

With Bush set to step down in January, Japan may be set for a change in direction, the Tokyo newspaper said. (Reporting by Yoko Kubota; Editing by Isabel Reynolds and John Chalmers)

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