Japan's government has formally extended its non-combat military mission in Iraq. But officials say the troops are likely to begin withdrawing next Summer.
At a special Cabinet meeting on Thursday, government leaders approved continuing the deployment of the Japan Self Defense Forces in Iraq for a third year.
Earlier in the day, the governing Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, the New Komei Party, agreed to the extension despite opposition from the majority of the voting public.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi made the formal announcement in a nationally televised news conference.
Mr. Koizumi says he does not know yet the timing for an eventual withdrawal of the Japanese troops, but in the meantime, Japan must continue to support the Iraqi people in their effort to bring about a stable and democratic government.
The dispatch of the six hundred troops in Samawah in southern Iraq was set to expire on December 14. The one-year extension includes a clause that allows for a pullout before the new expiration date if local circumstances warrant.
Government officials say some of the troops are likely to be removed before Prime Minister Koizumi's term expires next September.
The government's decision comes a few days after Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari visited Tokyo and urged Mr. Koizumi to extend the non-combat mission.
The troops have been building schools, providing fresh water and rendering medical assistance around Samawah since early 2004. Unlike other coalition forces, the Japanese have not suffered any casualties, although their base has been the target of rockets and their vehicles have been hit by rocks thrown by demonstrators.
Japanese media report that the United States next year is expected to ask Tokyo to take on different unspecified duties in other areas of Iraq.
Japan has been one of the biggest financial supporters of Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein, providing billions of dollars in grants, soft loans and debt forgiveness.