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Japan okays troops for Iraq
Agencies | December 09, 2003 15:19 IST
The Japanese government on Tuesday approved the deployment of non-combat troops to Iraq, thus sanctioning its largest overseas military operation since World War II, report agencies.
The decision was taken after an acrimonious cabinet debate, which also dealt with the killing of two Japanese diplomats in Iraq late last month.
Opinion polls indicate that most Japanese are opposed to the deployment, believing that it violates the nation's pacifist constitution, which explicitly forbids the military -- known as the Self-Defence Forces -- from waging war overseas. Japan has, however, taken part in international peacekeeping missions, though no Japanese soldier has died or fired a weapon in such missions.
Despite fears of troops being forced into combat situations in Iraq, as well as the threat of Japan being added to the Al Qaeda hit list, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi insists that "it's necessary to offer not only financial assistance but also personnel, including the Self Defence Forces", to help with Iraq's reconstruction efforts.
Local media reports indicate that the force would include 500 to 700 heavily armed ground troops, backed by the air force and navy. They are expected to mostly provide humanitarian assistance and help rebuild hospitals and schools damaged during the American-led attack on Iraq.