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Japan's Defense Minister Urges Deployment of Troops to Iraq

Japan's defense chief is saying the country should push ahead and dispatch troops to Iraq, despite the security situation and the risks. Defense Agency Director General Shigeru Ishiba says Japan should not be intimidated by threats of attacks on Tokyo if members of the Self Defense Forces are sent to Iraq.

Mr. Ishiba was referring to a recent warning, allegedly made by the al-Qaida terror network, that Japan would be attacked if it continued its support for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. The threat against Japan was sent by email to a London-based newspaper and said that Tokyo would be "the easiest place to destroy."

Speaking on a Sunday television news program, Mr. Ishiba warned that if Japan does not press ahead with a controversial plan to send troops to Iraq, it will be seen as a country that backs down if threatened. He said a lack of action might encourage North Korean aggression if the Stalinist state sees that Japan can be intimidated.

Japan is within range of North Korean missiles. Japan's unease has increased over the past year since North Korea admitted to a nuclear weapons program that violates several international accords. The cabinet minister, known for his hawkish views, also said that stability in the Middle East is a "matter of life or death for Japan" because the country is heavily reliant on oil from the region.

In contrast to the cabinet minister, politicians from the governing coalition made more cautious statements.

Fukushiro Nukaga, an important coalition politician and the policy chief of the Liberal Democratic Party, suggested on a televised program that the government first consider taking humanitarian supplies to Iraq by air or sea.

The policy chief says a decision on troop dispatches will be made after reviewing a report from a Japanese fact-finding mission sent to Iraq earlier this month.

On the same program on Sunday, the policy chief of the New Komeito party said the priority in any Japanese troop dispatch was safety, calling it "an absolute necessity."

The government had planned to send troops from the Ground Self-Defense Force to non-combat zones in southern Iraq by the end of the year. But a decision has been put off because of the security situation.