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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 December 2005, 07:32 GMT
Japan extends Iraq troops role
A Japanese soldier in Iraq
Japan troops have been in Samawa since early 2004
Japan has extended its military deployment in Iraq for another year.

The decision, announced after a meeting of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's cabinet, means the troops can stay until 14 December 2006.

Japan has about 500 troops in Samawa in southern Iraq, training Iraqi security forces and helping with reconstruction, but not engaging in combat roles.

However, there was media speculation that the troops could be pulled out before their new mandate is fully up.

The Japanese troops could be pulled out before the new expiration date if conditions change, either on the ground, or in the make-up of the coalition forces, Kyodo news agency said on Wednesday.

Kyodo quoted unidentified government sources as saying ground forces would begin to be withdrawn from next June, to coincide with a possible scaling down of British and Australian operations.

British and Australian forces are currently in charge of security in Samawa, as Japan's pacifist constitution bans it from engaging in combat overseas.

Japan's defence chief Fukushiro Nukaga visited Samawa at the weekend and told Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi that the conditions there were "generally stable".

But the Japanese public appears to be firmly against the mission, which it fears could violate the country's pacifism.

A recent poll in the Asahi newspaper suggested 69% opposed extending the mission, while one in the Mainichi suggested 77% were against it.

The BBC's Tokyo correspondent says the Iraq deployment is the most risky undertaken by Japan's armed forces since the end of World War II, when Japan adopted a pacifist constitution renouncing the use of war.


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