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Japan extends Iraq mission for another year
Updated: 2005-12-08 15:43

Japan has extended its historic military mission in Iraq until the end of 2006 but may pull out sometime earlier next year, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said.

"Today, the government has decided to extend the deployment of the Self-Defense Forces (military) to Iraq by another one year," Koizumi told reporters after a cabinet meeting.

"Humanitarian activities by the Self-Defense Forces have so far been highly valued by people in Iraq. We decided to extend their activities while looking at what Japan can do," he said.

He said he would make an "appropriate decision" on when to pull out of the relatively safe city of Samawa by looking at moves by Britain and Australia.

The two countries are in charge of security in the area of Japan's troops, who are barred from combat under the pacifist 1947 constitution imposed by the United States.

"I want to make an appropriate decision while closely cooperating with both the British and Australian governments, taking into full consideration the security situation in Samawa and taking every possible measure to ensure protection of the Self-Defense Force personnel," Koizumi said.

"We will think about Japan's assistance by always keeping in mind how it can help Iraqis quickly rebuild their country with their own hands without having to rely on the support of other nations," Koizumi said.

The Iraq mission, which began in December 2003, is Japan's first military deployment since World War II to a country where fighting is underway. It is seen as a way for Japan to bolster its image as more than an economic power.

Asked why the Iraq mission was useful if it was dependent on other countries' troops, Koizumi said, "It is important to cooperate with the multinational forces in Iraq.

"Of course Japan has a different purpose for the dispatch, but we should think about what Japan can do under these circumstances. I don't think Japan's mission is the same as those of Britain and Australia," he said.

News reports have said Japan is planning to withdraw in mid-2006 on the assumption that Britain and Australia would pull out of the area around the same time.

Opinion polls have shown that most Japanese oppose the deployment.

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