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Japan's Upper House of Parliament Approves Bill to Halt Air Force Mission in Iraq

Japan's upper house of parliament has approved a bill that would stop the country's air force transport mission in Iraq. It is the latest clash between the opposition party and the government over Japan's role in overseas peacekeeping missions. Naomi Martig reports from VOA's Asia News Center in Hong Kong.

Since removing 600 ground troops from southern Iraq last year, Japan has expanded its Kuwait-based operations to include airlifting U.N. and coalition personnel and supplies into Iraqi cities. Earlier this year, parliament extended that mission until July 2009.

The bill approved by the opposition-controlled upper house of parliament aims to terminate that special law. It is the first time the Democratic Party of Japan has been able to garner enough votes in the upper house to pass the legislation.

Tomohito Shinoda, a professor of politics at the International University of Japan, says many opposition members are against the Iraqi transport mission because they do not believe the war in Iraq was ever legitimate.

"Their argument is since a weapons of mass destruction is not found, which is supposed to be legitimacy to attack Iraq, therefore there is no help should be given to the multi-national force to reconstruct Iraq," he said.

The bill does not stand a chance of passing in the more powerful lower house, which is controlled by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. It does, however, highlight the opposition's battle with the government over Japan's military missions abroad.

Since winning control of the upper house of parliament in July, the Democratic Party of Japan has been challenging major policies of the ruling party. Early this month, the DPJ managed to stop Japan's mission in the Indian Ocean in support of U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan. The lower house is debating a new law that would redeploy its naval ships there.

Shinoda says the Democratic Party of Japan passed this latest bill to try to delay passage of the Indian Ocean legislation.

"To spend more time on the deliberation on Iraq reconstruction abolition bill, then there will be more limited time available for the passage of anti-terrorism law to send Self Defense Forces to the Indian Ocean," he said.

Opposition members argue that both missions should be under a U.N. mandate, and that they go against the country's pacifist constitution, which prohibits Japan from waging war or maintaining a military.