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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 July 2006, 07:14 GMT 08:14 UK
Japan's last Iraq troops return
A soldier greets his son on 20 July 2006
This ends Japan's most significant deployment since World War II
The final group of Japanese soldiers has returned from Iraq, ending the country's two-and-a-half-year deployment there.

The 280 troops were greeted at Tokyo's Haneda airport by Self Defence Force chief General Hajime Masaaki.

A rotating contingent of 600 troops have worked on rebuilding projects in Muthanna province since February 2004.

The deployment was Japan's first to a combat zone since World War II, and sparked considerable public opposition.

Many people said the dispatch violated the country's post-war pacifist constitution, which renounces the use of force to settle international disputes.

A special law was passed enabling the deployment of troops, who were protected by Dutch, Australian and British troops, because they were not allowed to use force.

There have been no Japanese military casualties and troops have not fired a single shot.

Japan's constitution currently renounces the use of force
This has been stretched to allow self-defence troops
1992 law allowed troops to join UN and relief work overseas
2003 law said troops could go to non-combat zones in Iraq
PM Koizumi wants to give Japan even greater powers

The decision to withdraw was prompted by plans for the UK and Australia to hand over responsibility for security in the province to Iraqi forces.

Japanese troops left their base in Samawa on 17 July and this group is the last of three to return home.

"I am pleased that the ground troops completed the two-and-a-half-year mission in Iraq and could return home without ever being involved in combat activities," Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said.

"It was tough, but we are proud of the fact that they carried out their duties and made a big international contribution," he said.

Around 200 Japanese air force personnel remain in Kuwait, where they will continue to be involved in transport activities, a Defence Agency spokeswoman said.

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