Iraqi PM arrives in Tokyo for talks

Iraq's prime minister arrived in Tokyo on Monday for talks with government leaders on the heels of a protest in southern Iraq in which stone-throwing demonstrators demanded the withdrawal of Japanese troops. The visit 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.

Al-Jaafari was scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi later Monday to discuss Iraq's political and economic conditions and Japan's assistance to Iraqi reconstruction, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said.

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, but Baghdad wants Japan to stay. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hohshyar Zebari visited Japan last month and urged Tokyo to continue the deployment.

On Monday, Nukaga briefed Koizumi on Japan's mission in Iraq and stressed the need to prolong the deployment, Kyodo News agency reported.

Koizumi ordered Nukaga to start preparing for the extension, the report said.

"I will make a comprehensive decision (on an extension) based on the talks" with al-Jaafari, Koizumi told reporters.

On Sunday, angry protesters threw stones at a facility repaired by Japanese troops in the town of Rumaythah near Samawah, but nobody was injured, a Japanese Defense Agency spokeswoman said on condition of anonymity, citing internal policy.

A mirror on an armored truck was broken in the violence, the spokeswoman said. She had no other details.

Kyodo reported some 40 armed demonstrators, believed to be members of a Shiite Muslim group backing anti-U.S. cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, surrounded a building during a ceremony marking a completion of repairs by Japanese troops.

The ceremony was attended by a dozen Japanese Ground Self-Defense officials and local leaders, and protesters threw stones at a line of Japanese military vehicles parked outside, demanding Japan's withdrawal, Kyodo reported.

A day earlier, Nukaga visited Samawah. He inspected his troops, met with British and Australian soldiers protecting the Japanese contingent and declared the area relatively safe. His visit was largely seen as an attempt to gain public support for an extension of the mission. Nukaga later brushed off the stone-throwing protest, saying: "It's not the first time for such an incident."

In June, a roadside explosion that damaged a Japanese military vehicle in Samawah led the troops to temporarily suspend their activities outside the base.

Japan's deployment is set to expire on Dec. 14. The government is expected to extend it, but news reports last week said that Tokyo could still decide to withdraw its troops sometime in the middle of next year, reports the AP. I.L.

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