Japan's defense chief to visit Japanese troops in Iraq

Japan's defense chief left his country Friday on a trip to visit Japanese troops in Iraq, Kyodo News agency reported, amid rising expectations that Tokyo would extend its mission into next year. Defense Agency chief Fukushiro Nukaga will inspect the 600 troops Japan has dispatched to the southern Iraqi city of Samawah on a humanitarian mission to purify water and rebuild schools, Kyodo said. The Defense Agency refused to comment on the report, citing security concerns. The report came after Iraq's Foreign Minister Hohshyar Zebari visited Japan last week. During the visit, he urged Tokyo to extend its troop deployment to Iraq.

Japan's mission expires Dec. 14, but Tokyo hasn't decided whether to renew it. Nukaga said Japan was "proud" of the work its forces have done, but gave no commitment on an extension after meeting Zebari last Friday.

The deployment, Japan's largest overseas mission since World War II, is increasingly unpopular with the public. Many Japanese have criticized the deployment as a violation of the country's pacifist constitution and say it has made Japan a target for terrorism.

Koizumi favors a more active role for Japan in international security, however, and has suggested that Japan's efforts in Iraq aren't finished. In October, Japan approved a one-year extension of its naval mission to support U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan, reports the AP. I.L.

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