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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, December 8, 2003

Japan set to OK Iraq troop deployment

Bloomberg News Service

Japan will adopt plans tomorrow to send troops to help rebuild Iraq, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said, putting to an end weeks of speculation such a move might be delayed because of growing security concerns.

Cabinet ministers, including Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, have agreed to send the so-called Self Defense Forces to the war-torn country to provide humanitarian assistance, Fukuda told a regularly scheduled news conference in Tokyo.

Former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and other envoys will visit the country this month prior to the deployment, the chief government spokesman said.

Japan has been debating the timing of the deployment after a growing number of attacks in Iraq renewed safety concern. Two Japanese diplomats were shot dead near the northern town of Tikrit late last month, following a bomb attack that killed 19 Italian nationals in the southern city of Nasiriyah.

"We're talking about special steps to help rebuild Iraq," Fukuda said in Tokyo. "That includes a dispatch of the Self Defense Forces to provide humanitarian assistance," he added, referring to Japan's military.

The plan to send troops is controversial in Japan because the country's constitution, written after World War II, prohibits the use of force to settle international disputes.

Few Japanese people support a dispatch of troops to Iraq. A Kyodo News survey taken last week showed only 7.5 percent of the respondents believe Japan should send troops "as soon as possible." Fifty-six percent said the government should be careful about the timing of the dispatch, while 34 percent said they oppose the move under any circumstance.

At least 186 U.S. soldiers have been killed since May 1, when President Bush declared an end to the war that ousted Sadam Hussein's regime.