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Iraq Hopes Japanese Troops Stay Beyond Mid-December

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari has received a multi-billion-dollar debt waiver from Japan, but he was not able to win a solid commitment from the Japanese to keep their troops in southern Iraq. The waiver represents 80 percent of the debt run up by the Saddam Hussein regime, with the remainder to be repaid over the next 23 years.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari has managed to get Japan to formally agree to a $6 billion waiver of trade insurance debt.

Mr. Zebari, speaking to reporters in Tokyo, says he also asked Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Defense Minister Fukushiro Nukaga to keep Japan's 600 non-combat troops in Samawah past the December 14 deadline for the end of their mission.

"Any premature withdrawal will send the wrong message to the terrorists," he said, "the deadly oppositionists let us say, to those countries in the region that this coalition is fracturing, they are running, that their policies, their strategies of undermining this process is winning."

Japanese officials say Foreign Minister Taro Aso told Zebari on Thursday that the government will decide soon whether to extend the mission. They say Japan's defense minister reiterated that message to Mr. Zebari on Friday.

The Japanese troops have been engaged in reconstruction work and providing clean water to Samawah-area residents.

There are indications the Japanese government could extend its troop presence in Iraq. Last month it approved a one-year extension of a naval mission in the Indian Ocean that has been supporting U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan.

But such an extension in Iraq would clearly go against public opinion here. A Japanese newspaper's public opinion poll last month found that more than three-quarters of those surveyed are against keeping Japanese forces in the war-torn country.