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    Japan Expected to Heed Iraqi Plea to Keep Troops in Samawah

    Japan is expected to heed a plea by the Iraqi prime minister, currently on a visit to Tokyo, to extend the country's deployment of non-combat troops in southern Iraq. The visit also comes at a time when Japan is starting to play a greater role in Middle East diplomacy.

    Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari met Monday with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

    The Iraqi leader, echoing a plea his foreign minister made during a visit to Tokyo just 10 days ago, is calling on Japan to continue its military presence in Iraq.

    Japan has some 600 non-combat troops near Samawah, in southern Iraq. The authorization for the deployment will expire in the middle of this month.

    Japan's cabinet is to vote Thursday on extending the mission, a week before the Iraqi parliamentary elections on December 15.

    Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Tomohiko Taniguchi says the government is likely to agree to the Iraqi request to extend the mission.

    "It would be rather a stupid kind of thing if we were to say, now, that we're not interested in doing the sort of things we are doing just before they [Iraqis] are undergoing the most critical stage of their development," said Tomohiko Taniguchi.

    Japan's Defense Minister, Fukushiro Nukaga, in a statement released Sunday following a visit to Samawah, said local Iraqis strongly support the presence of the Japanese military there, adding that it is "important to continue the humanitarian mission."

    But the presence of the Japanese soldiers in Iraq, Tokyo's largest dispatch of troops overseas, is not popular here. The majority of Japanese surveyed in public opinion polls oppose the mission. Many worry the dispatch runs counter to the country's pacifist constitution and makes Japan a target for terrorism.


    Steve Herman

    A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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