TOKYO – Japan announced Friday it would end its airlift operations in Iraq by the end of the year, citing security improvements and moves toward democracy in Iraq.
The largely formal order to end the nation's four-year participation in Iraq came at a government national security council meeting, and had been expected for months. Prime Minister Taro Aso said the mission had achieved its goal.
"Iraq has demonstrated a steady effort to install a democratic government and the country's security has improved while the Iraqi people are now making their own effort to rebuild their country" Aso said in a statement.
The non-combative mission has tested the limits of Japan's pacifist constitution and divided the public.
Aso said Japan will continue economic aid and technology support to Iraq. He cited a similar moves by other countries ahead of the expiration at the end of the year of the U.N. Security Council resolution that sets the legal basis for U.S. troops in Iraq. Iraq is also reviewing multinational forces' activities there.
Japan has airlifted equipment and troops since 2006 from Kuwait to Iraq, including Baghdad, in support of the U.S.-led forces.
Japan deployed about 600 army troops to the southern city of Samawah on a humanitarian mission from 2004, but that ended in 2006. The airlift mission in Iraq began in 2006.
Japan is debating whether to continue its anti-terrorism maritime mission in the Indian Ocean, which expires in December. The refueling mission began in 2001 to support U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan. Japan had to suspend it late last year after the opposition blocked its extension in parliament.
The Iraq and Afghan missions have divided public opinion in Japan, where critics oppose them as a violation of the country's pacifist constitution, written in 1947 by the U.S., which bans Japan from engaging in warfare.