Japan about to stay in Iraq

Japan plans to extend a mandate for its troop depatch to Iraq by another year and hopes to reach a final decision next week.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi faces a touchy decision on whether to extend Japan's depatch of around 550 ground troops to Samawa in southern Iraq beyond December 14, when the current mandate for their humanitarian and reconstruction mission expires.

The government is eying a one-year extension of the mandate, and hopes to withdraw its troops by the end of 2006, the Mainichi newspaper said, adding that no specific dates for a withdrawal would be included in the revised plan.

No changes would be made to the number of ground troops to take part in the mission - now limited to as many as 600 -- or to the type of activities they would carry out, it said.

Public broadcaster NHK and Kyodo news agency said government officials briefed senior members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Wednesday regarding the extension plan and received their consent.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said the government would make its decision based on factors such as the situation in Iraq and the need for international cooperation.

He also stressed that Iraq had expressed appreciation for the activities of the Japanese troops.

"I think we need to take into account the fact that the government and people of Iraq have a very high opinion of the activities of our country's Self-Defence Force," Abe told reporters, referring to Japan's military.

Mainichi said the government was hoping to obtain cabinet approval on December 9 while NHK and Kyodo said a cabinet decision could be made on December 8.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, during a visit to Japan, had urged Tokyo last week to keep its troops in southern Iraq, saying an early pullout of coalition forces would lead to more violence by insurgents.

While the Japanese troops do not take part in operations to maintain security, the deployment is Japan's first significant overseas military mission since World War Two, Reuters reports.


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