Iraqi foreign minister requests Japan to extend troop deployment

Iraq's foreign minister asked Japan's premier and its defense chief on Friday to extend Tokyo's deployment of about 600 troops to southern Iraq but was told a decision was still down the road. Hoshya Zebari, who arrived in Japan on Wednesday, petitioned Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in an afternoon meeting and made a similar request earlier in the day to Defense Chief Fukushiro Nukaga.

"We have a clear commitment from him to support a process of democratization in Iraq," Zebari said at a news conference after meeting with Koizumi. "I was reassured that Japan will stay committed," he said. Zebari acknowledged that a final decision was still to be made in coming days or weeks by the Japanese government. "He understands that its a decision the Japanese government will make later," Koizumi spokesman Yu Kameoka said.

Koizumi, who favors a more active role for Japan in international security, has suggested that Japan's efforts in Iraq aren't finished. Last month, Japan approved a one-year extension of its naval mission to support U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan. During his meeting with Nukaga, Zebari repeated his country's request that Japan extend its dispatch of about 600 noncombat troops to the southern Iraqi city of Samawah, where they have been conducting humanitarian projects.

The mission expires Dec. 14, but Tokyo hasn't decided whether to renew it. Nukaga said that Japan is "proud" of the work its forces have done there, including purifying water and rebuilding schools. But Nukaga did not make commitments about a possible extension, a Defense Agency official said on condition of anonymity.

Iraq will repay the remaining debt over 23 years, including a 6-year grace period. The agreement comes after members of the Paris Club, which represents the world's main creditor nations, decided to reduce by 80 percent the US$38.9 billion (Ђ31.8 billion) Iraq owes to its member states. The United States last year forgave Iraq 100 percent of its debt of US$4.1 billion (Ђ3.3 billion). Iraq owes another US$80 billion (Ђ65.4 billion) to various Arab governments, mainly Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Zebari is scheduled to leave Japan on Saturday, reports the AP. N.U.

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