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Japan hopes to end Iraq mission after Britain, Australia
Updated: 2005-12-07 16:57

Japan says it hopes to end its historic mission in southern Iraq after the withdrawal from the area in mid-2006 by British and Australian forces which protect Japanese troops.

The Japanese government, whose troops are barred fromn combat, presented its draft plan to extend the 600-troop deployment to panels of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party before final cabinet approval expected Thursday.

The draft plan said the mission, which is set to expire next Wednesday, will be extended by another year, but Japan hopes to withdraw before then and will "carefully watch" moves by Britain and Australia.

The two countries have told Japan that they would likely withdraw from the area of southern Iraq where Japanese troops are stationed in May, Jiji Press said, quoting unnamed government sources.

Asked when Japan would pull out, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters: "We'll think about the issue on our own based on how the mission is evaluated and needed as well as the local security condition."

The reconstruction mission in the relatively stable southern city of Samawa is Japan's first deployment since World War II to a country where fighting is under way, and is opposed by most of the public.

Japan is banned from maintaining a military under the US-imposed 1947 constitution, meaning the troops in Iraq rely on other countries for their security.

But the United States may ask Japan to consider stationing its troops in other locations in Iraq, Jiji Press reported.

US undersecretary of defense for policy Eric Edelman suggested the possibility to main opposition leader Seiji Maehara, who is currently visiting Washington, it said.

Koizumi, however, said he was not informed on the matter.

News reports said Japan was hoping to withdraw its troops before Koizumi leaves office in September following a five-year tenure in which he has tried to bolster Tokyo's international profile.

Under a proposed revision of the constitution issued by the ruling party last month, Japan would once again have a "military" in name while remaining pacifist.

The Japanese troops in Iraq have not suffered any casualties or even fired a shot in their two-year deployment.

Japan's defense chief Fukushiro Nukaga paid a flying visit to Samawa at the weekend. He told Koizumi that the conditions were "generally stable" and recommended an extension of the troop mission.

Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari, who visited Tokyo earlier this week, also called on Japan to extend the mission.

To help its reconstruction, Japan has agreed to grant Iraq low-interest loans to rebuild its oil infrastructure, saying that restoring the energy industry was key to bringing stability to the country.

Japan is heavily reliant on Middle Eastern oil to keep its massive economy running.

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