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Japan's navy ships out for Iraq mission
Updated: 2004-02-14 16:18

A Japanese naval transport left its port in southwestern Japan on Saturday for Kuwait as the nation's navy joined ground and air units involved in a humanitarian operation in Iraq.

The 8,900-ton Osumi was tasked with carrying heavy equipment and supplies for Japanese troops based in southern Iraq, where they are on a noncombat mission to help US-led coalition forces rebuild war-battered infrastructure.

The vessel, which is stationed in Kure and has a complement of 150, will reportedly pick up its cargo at a port on Japan's northernmost island on Wednesday and arrive in Kuwait in early March, accompanied by a Japanese destroyer.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has committed a total of 1,000 Japanese military personnel to the Iraq operation, about 100 of whom are building a base in the southern city of Samawah in preparation for the arrival of another 500 ground troops. An air force contingent is flying supply runs out of Iraq.

Polls show many Japanese are leery about the mission because of the danger their troops will be drawn into fighting despite assurances by the government they will serve only in a relatively stable part of Iraq.

Defense Agency Director General Shigeru Ishiba attended a televised departure ceremony on board the vessel.

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