Iraqi leader visits Tokyo among anti-Japanese protests

Iraq's prime minister urged his Japanese counterpart to extend Tokyo's humanitarian mission to the wartorn country Monday, on the heels of a protest in southern Iraq in which stone-throwing demonstrators demanded the withdrawal of Japanese troops.

The visit to Tokyo by Ibrahim al-Jaafari comes as Japan edges closer to extending its non-combat, humanitarian mission in the city of Samawah into next year. The trip also follows a visit to Iraq over the weekend by Japanese defense chief Fukushiro Nukaga.

At a meeting with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi Monday evening, al-Jaafari urged the Japanese leader to keep his country's troops in Iraq, according to a foreign ministry official on condition of anonymity.

U.S.-led operations should continue until stability returned to Iraq, the official quoted al-Jaafari as saying. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hohshyar Zebari, who visited Japan last month, also called on Tokyo to continue the deployment.

Koizumi stopped short of promising an extension, only saying he would actively consider al-Jaafari's request.

Al-Jaafari also told Koizumi that Japanese troops' humanitarian activity in Iraq has been "appreciated and fully understood by the Iraqi people."

The official also quoted al-Jaafari as telling Koizumi that his country hopes Japan will consider a long-term investment in Iraq's northern and southern areas, where insurgent activities have calmed down.

Al-Jaafari also told Koizumi preparations for nationwide elections on Dec. 15 were progressing smoothly.

Japan, a key supporter of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, has some 600 troops based in Samawah to purify water, repair schools and carry out other humanitarian tasks.

The mission is increasingly unpopular in Japan because of the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, the AP reports.


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