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Japan Debates Troop Deployment in Iraq - 2003-07-04

Japan's more powerful lower house of parliament on Friday approved sending ground troops to help with reconstruction efforts in Iraq. The move would be Japan's highest profile role ever in international peacekeeping.

The deployment could be in place as early as October and would involve about 1,000 Japanese Self Defense Force personnel.

The proposal, backed by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, would be Japan's largest overseas military deployment since World War II.

The lower house approved the bill allowing troop deployment. It is expected to become law later this month when what Japanese media say is almost-certain approval by the upper house.

Also Friday, Mr. Koizumi's cabinet approved the dispatch of transport planes next week to ferry food, medicine and other supplies for Iraqi relief efforts.

The main opposition Democratic Party of Japan had submitted a revised bill Wednesday that would have allowed Japan to help reconstruction efforts in Iraq without dispatching the military, but it was rejected by the ruling coalition.

The Democratic Party and other critics say the plan might put Japanese troops into combat. This would violate the country's pacifist constitution, which does not allow the military involvement in international conflicts unless the missions are defensive in nature.

Chief government spokesman Yasuo Fukuda.

"Mr. Fukuda says the Koizumi administration will not dispatch Japan's Self Defense Forces to dangerous places, even if they have weapons to defend themselves, and that safety issues will be of prime importance," he said.

Nonetheless, Prime Minister Koizumi's critics, who include some influential ruling party figures, say it is difficult if not impossible to designate danger zones, given the series of attacks on U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq.

Japan, the world's second-largest economy, passed a law in 1992 to allow Japanese troops to take part in U.N. peacekeeping missions. Since then, Japanese troops have been dispatched to Mozambique, Zaire, Cambodia, the Golan Heights and East Timor.

Japan is among more than 70 nations asked by Washington to contribute to peacekeeping efforts in Iraq.