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Japan Honors Diplomats Killed in Iraq - 2003-12-06

Japan has honored its two diplomats killed in Iraq one-week ago with a state funeral in Tokyo. A teary-eyed Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi vowed to continue working alongside the international community for the reconstruction of Iraq, despite the deaths of his countrymen.

Prime Minister Koizumi, Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, government officials, and foreign diplomats were among those who gathered Saturday for the funeral service organized by the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

An emotional Mr. Koizumi had to pause to compose himself as he told of his "deep sorrow and strong anger" for the loss of the two diplomats in "this cruel attack."

Mr. Koizumi expresses condolences to the diplomats' families on behalf of the Japanese government and people.

Katsuhiko Oku and Masamori Inoue, along with their Iraqi driver, were gunned down last weekend near Tikrit, the hometown of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. They were the first Japanese killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in March.

According to Japan's Kyodo News Service, Iraqi's interim foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, has labeled the killings the work of Saddam Hussein's secret service, the Mukhabarat. Kyodo quoted Mr. Zebari as saying that the two Japanese were targeted because Japan is cooperating with the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

The Iraqi official also said he believes the recent killings of two South Korean technicians on the same highway, and of seven Spanish intelligence agents south of Baghdad, were also carried out by Saddam Hussein's secret service.

The Japanese diplomats' deaths and growing attacks on other non-U.S. personnel in Iraq have intensified debate in Japan over whether to go ahead with a deployment of non-combat troops to help re-build the country.

Prime Minister Koizumi used the occasion of Saturday's funeral to restate his government's desire to persist.

Japanese media say Mr. Koizumi's cabinet is likely to approve early next week a plan to allow the dispatch of a one-thousand-member contingent, which would be Japan's biggest overseas military deployment since World War II.