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S. Korea, Japan Still Working on Plans for Troop Deployments in Iraq - 2003-12-17

South Korea's government has finalized plans to send another three-thousand troops to Iraq. While Japan is still working out deployment details amid growing security concerns.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and his cabinet approved a long-debated plan Wednesday to dispatch three thousand troops to Iraq. They will aid in U.S.-led peacekeeping and reconstruction. South Korea already has more than 400 non-combat personnel in Iraq.

Parliament is expected to approve the deployment next week. South Korea will be consulting with U.S. military officials on when and where to send the troops. The decision had been hotly debated for months in South Korea, where public opinion is divided and there have been demonstrations both for and against the deployment.

Two South Korean engineers died in an ambush in Iraq in late November, increasing public concerns.

The Roh administration pushed the deployment saying it would boost ties with its ally, the United States, as they face a stand-off with North Korea over its nuclear weapons development. However, the numbers are believed to fall well sort of what Washington wanted. Some 37,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea under a mutual defense agreement to deter a North Korean attack.

Meanwhile, Japan - the other key U.S. ally in Asia - said Wednesday plans for its military deployment to Iraq were still being finalized. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's Cabinet last week endorsed a plan to send one-thousand troops to southern Iraq. Polls show that most Japanese oppose the idea because they fear for the troops' safety.

Worries over the Japanese presence in Iraq escalated Wednesday when government spokesman, Yasuo Fukuda, warned that the Japanese Embassy in Iraq received a threat of a possible attack. He says under the circumstances, we must be cautious and he urges Japanese citizens to avoid Japan's diplomatic compound in Baghdad.

Japan's constitution bars its troops from taking part in combat except in self-defense. But the Japanese parliament passed a law earlier this year authorizing the dispatch of non-combat troops to Iraq, who could carry weapons to use if attacked.