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Japan to Delay Sending Support Troops to Iraq - 2003-11-11


The Japanese government has decided to delay dispatching troops to Iraq to support the reconstruction effort there. The Japanese government says the mission will likely go ahead next year. Japanese government officials say they will postpone sending Self-Defense Forces units to Iraq because of the deteriorating security situation there.

An advance team was set to go to southern Iraq in December. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said on Tuesday the security concerns are an important factor in sending troops to Iraq. He adds the government has to examine the situation carefully before making a decision.

The delay comes as a surprise because the cabinet had been expected to approve the deployment on Friday.

Media reports say Japan is considering sending 1,200 troops and civilians to help the United States rebuild Iraq. Defense Agency Director General Shigeru Ishiba says the final plan for the deployment will depend on what is going on in Iraq when the troops are sent. He confirms that the government has made no decision on the timing.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has said he sees the results of Sunday's national election as a vote of approval for the controversial deployment. The opposition Democratic Party, which gained strength in the election, however says it will support sending Japanese troops only under the auspices of the United Nations.

The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan's largest daily newspaper, reported Tuesday that the government thinks the parliament will not have enough time to debate the plan because of other pressing business - such as approving the new budget and reforming the state-run pension system.

Under the law, legislators must approve an overseas mission for the Self-Defense Forces within 20 days after the head of the Defense Agency orders a deployment.

The delay is likely to come up during U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's visit to Japan later this week. The United States has asked Japan, its close ally, to send troops to support its efforts in Iraq. Mr. Rumsfeld also is expected to discuss the North Korean nuclear crisis and possible changes to the U-S military presence in Japan. He will go to Seoul, also, to discuss the possibility of South Korea sending combat troops to Iraq, as well as regional security issues.

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