Photo/IllutrationGen. Hajime Massaki, center left, chief of staff of the Ground Self-Defense Force, holds up a sign for the Samawah camp to be used by the GSDF in Iraq. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Although Ground Self-Defense Force members were dispatched to "noncombat zones" in Iraq from 2004 to support rebuilding efforts there, daily logs show they came under attacks that could have wounded or killed some of the troops.

The logs, released by the Defense Ministry on April 16, depict SDF vehicles being damaged by roadside bombs and rocket shells landing near the camp in Samawah in southern Iraq.

There are also reports of other members of the alliance in Iraq, such as Britain and Australia, coming under attack from elements opposed to the U.S.-led occupation in the war-torn nation.

Despite the descriptions of gunfire and explosions in the daily logs, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera insisted on April 17 that the SDF had been dispatched to noncombat zones.

When asked in the Upper House foreign affairs and defense committee about the logs, Onodera said there was no change in his thinking that the SDF activities were based on the special measures law for Iraqi reconstruction assistance that limited the area of activity to noncombat zones.

GSDF members were dispatched to Iraq from January 2004 until September 2006. A total of 5,600 members were deployed.

The mission logs, released more than a year after a request made by the opposition on Feb. 20, 2017, cover 435 days and total 14,929 pages, representing records for about 45 percent of the period during which the GSDF was in Iraq.

Some of the records released were blacked out, but Defense Ministry officials explained that those portions were related to activities involving the militaries of other nations in the alliance.

The logs from the latter half of the deployment mentioned increasing instances of violence and fighting on the ground.

For example, the report from Jan. 22, 2006, referred to "exchange of gunfire" in the vicinity of the Samawah camp, with British troops coming under attack from armed elements.

The log for June 23, 2005, describes an explosion close to a convoy of GSDF vehicles heading to a site to provide assistance. The explosion damaged one of the trucks, including cracking the front window and denting the right door knob. Photos of the damaged truck as well as the site of the bombing were included in the daily log.

For a period after that incident, GSDF members refrained from leaving the camp.

In July 2005, rocket shells landed near the Samawah camp. The log for July 5, 2005, mentions the possibility of consecutive rocket firings, but was unclear as to which elements had fired the shells.

At the time of the Iraqi deployment, the government interpretation of Article 9 of the Constitution prohibited the use of force overseas. Because the SDF could not be seen as working alongside foreign militaries that were authorized to use force, the concept of noncombat zones was introduced to define where the SDF could be deployed.

Then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was criticized by the opposition parties when he said in the Diet, "The areas where the SDF will operate in are noncombat zones."

However, the daily logs show that the SDF members were exposed to far greater danger than lawmakers were led to believe.

On May 31, 2006, a convoy including GSDF and Australian troops was targeted by a booby-trapped bomb. The daily log for that day raised the possibility of an improvised explosive device, but the photo of the site of the explosion was blacked out.

On June 20, 2006, Koizumi announced that the SDF dispatch would end, noting that the SDF had fulfilled a certain degree of achievement in providing humanitarian assistance.