TOKYO, Sept 10, 2008 (AFP) - Taro Aso, the front-runner to be Japan's next prime minister, hinted Wednesday he would end the country's military mission flying goods and personnel into Iraq.
"The conditions are being reached for a withdrawal from Iraq," Aso told a joint news conference with his rivals within the ruling party to succeed Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda.
Japanese planes based in Kuwait fly goods and personnel into Iraq on behalf of the US-led coalition and United Nations. Domestic legislation allowing the mission expires in July next year.
Officially pacifist Japan ended a landmark deployment of ground troops in Iraq in 2006.
Japan's opposition, which is seeking to oust Aso's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in upcoming elections, is against any Japanese military involvement in Iraq.
The opposition also last year forced a temporary halt to a Japanese naval mission which provides fuel and logistical support to US-led forces operating in Afghanistan.
Aso said he would fight to continue the Indian Ocean mission by the Japanese military, known as the Self-Defence Forces due to the post-World War II pacifist constitution.
"In the Indian Ocean and Afghanistan, the situation is getting worse and each country is boosting troops," Aso said.
"The personnel of the Maritime Self-Defence Force are working hard for Japan, international solidarity and the fight against terrorism. I can only call it heartbreaking if I would have to bring them back merely because of the domestic political situation," he said.
LDP leaders have in recent years sought a higher military profile for Japan, arguing that the economic power and US ally must do more to contribute to international security.