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Japan Orders Iraq Troop Deployment - 2003-12-19

Japan has ordered its military to prepare to aid in reconstruction efforts in Iraq. Opinion polls show voters oppose the planned deployment, because they believe Iraq is too dangerous.

Japanese Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba on Friday issued orders to military personnel to get ready for a mission to Iraq.

Mr. Ishiba told reporters Friday he had given orders to the air force, army and navy.

He ordered an advance air force team to leave for Kuwait on or about December 26. It may also travel to Iraq to assess security and to prepare for the arrival of more military personnel. Ground and sea troops are expected to depart for Iraq as early as next month, though no date has been set.

Minister Ishiba's orders were expected after Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Thursday approved detailed plans to send up to 1,000 Japanese military personnel to help the U.S.-led reconstruction of Iraq. They will be sent to the south, where they will perform non-combat duties.

Japan's pacifist constitution limits its military to a self-defense role. But Parliament passed a law earlier this year authorizing the dispatch of troops to "non-combat areas" of Iraq, where they will carry weapons to use if they are attacked. Killings of U.S. and other coalition forces in Iraq have been frequent, and two Japanese diplomats were killed in an ambush in Iraq last month.

No Japanese military personnel have fired a shot or died in combat in an overseas mission since World War II.

Polls show most Japanese fear that Iraq is too dangerous, and oppose the deployment. Many people also are worried about a possible terrorist attack in Japan as retaliation for its role in Iraq.

Japan is a leading U.S. ally, and backed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Tokyo has also pledged $5 billion to help with its reconstruction.