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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 February, 2004, 11:19 GMT
Japan's Iraq troops told to go native
Japanese Self-Defence Force Commander Lieutenant Colonel Masahisa Sato (right)
Masahisa Sato, already in Iraq, is leading the way on facial hair
Japanese soldiers going to Iraq are reportedly being encouraged to grow moustaches to blend in with the locals.

They will also be banned from consuming alcohol or pork on their base in the southern Iraqi town of Samawah, according to a defence agency official.

"We studied Iraq's customs, culture and religion as much as we could," Defence Agency Director Shigeru Ishiba said.

Japanese wants to avoid any attacks on its troops, which could draw them into politically sensitive combat.

A small number of reconnaissance troops are already in Samawah and they will probably be joined by the first ground troops later this week.

Pictures of the leader of the advance troops, Masahisa Sato, show he is already sporting a full moustache.

"What a magnificent moustache. He looks just like an Iraqi," a Japanese newspaper quoted one local resident as saying.

Unlike in Iraq, facial hair is comparatively rare in Japan. However, it seems unlikely that the soldiers will sprout full-grown beards.

"That would interfere with their gas masks," a Japanese defence agency official told the Associated Press.

The troops are due to help provide clean water and infrastructure to Samawah.

Opinion polls suggest that about half of the Japanese public is currently opposed to the deployment.

Japan's constitution prohibits the use of force in international disputes, but the Japanese Government argues the country is entitled to exercise self-defence and the troops will be able to return fire if they are attacked.

A total of about 1,000 Japanese troops - 600 main ground units and 400 air force and naval logistical support units - are expected in Iraq by March.

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