Japanese troops in Iraq can defend themselves, Japan's defense chief says

Japanese troops in Iraq can defend themselves, even if the British and Australian soldiers protecting them pull out of the area, Japan's defense chief said Tuesday. Defense Agency head Yoshinori Ono told parliament that there had been no formal decision for the British and Australians to pull out of southern Iraq, but that his troops could provide their own security.

"The security situation is relatively stable there," Ono told the lower house of parliament. "They can maintain their safety on their own."

Japan has some 550 soldiers on a strictly non-combat, humanitarian mission in the southern city of Samawah. Legislation allowing the dispatch is due to expire in December, and the parliament is discussing a government proposal to extend the mission.

Japanese news reports have said that Britain and Australia were preparing to withdraw their troops from the region around Samawah, but Ono denied that had been decided.

"In order to ensure their safety, we have been closely exchanging information with the British and Australian troops as well as Iraqi authorities," he said. "I understand that there have been no formal decision for the Australian and British troops to pull out."

Japanese public opinion is split over the deployment of troops to Iraq, and many fear that the soldiers could get caught up in the fighting or be targeted by insurgents. Other opponents argue that the dispatch violates Japan's pacifist constitution, reports the AP. I.L.

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