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Japan agrees to deploy 1,000 troops to Iraq|
Talafar, Iraq — Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi stared down his political opposition Tuesday, spearheading a cabinet decision to send about 1,000 soldiers to Iraq in spite of a Constitution that prevents waging war.
The deployment will restore water services, offer medical and other humanitarian assistance and help rebuild schools in southeaster Iraq. The dispatch, expected to begin over the next month, will involve elements of Japan's land, sea and air forces.
Following the decision, Mr. Koizumi went before the nation to explain why he is pushing ahead with the controversial plan, which opposition leaders say could draw the troops into combat and violate Japan's postwar pacifist Constitution.
“We are not going to war,” he said. “The situation in Iraq is severe. We know it is not necessarily safe. But our Self-Defence Forces must still fulfill this mission.”
The outline announced Tuesday left the timing of the dispatch open, though a small advance contingent is expected to leave before the end of the year. Japan's defence minister was expected to set the date by early next week.
Under the plan, 600 ground troops will be sent, along with armoured vehicles and up to six naval ships, and eight aircraft, including three C130 transport planes. The total number of troops would be about 1,000, making it the largest overseas deployment since World War II, according to the Defence Agency.
Mr. Koizumi stressed the need for Tokyo to live up to its commitments to the United States, Japan's most important ally. Japan was criticized by Washington for contributing only money, and not personnel, during the first Gulf War in the early 1990s. Opponents of the dispatch say Iraq is still not secure enough to fulfill that requirement. Such dangers were underscored last weekend, when two diplomats were gunned down near the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit.
Also Tuesday, a suicide bomber blew up a car packed with explosives at the gates of a military barracks, wounding 41 U.S. troops just hours after three soldiers died in a road accident in central Iraq, the military said. In Baghdad, a rocket attack on a mosque left three Iraqi civilians dead.
In the Baghdad attack, a missile exploded in the courtyard of a mosque in the capital's western Hurriyah district. Ahmed Hussein, the mosque's prayer leader, said the explosion occurred at 6:45 a.m. and that it damaged the building and several cars parked nearby. Several people were injured.
The attack at the U.S. army base occurred at 4:45 a.m. local time when a car drove to the gate of the base in the town of Talafar, about 50 kilometres west of the northern city of Mosul.
Guards at the gate and in a watchtower opened fire on the vehicle and moments later it blew up. The bomb left a large crater at the gate's entryway.
Colonel Michael Linnington, commander of the 3rd Brigade which controls the area west from Mosul to the Syrian border, said the attack was a suicide mission and that the attacker's remains were “all over the compound.”
“Right now we have four soldiers that were evacuated and are being treated for blast injuries. In addition, 37 soldiers have nicks, cuts, bruises and some broken bones,” he said. A base translator also was injured in the blast, which damaged nearby homes.
Meanwhile, three U.S. soldiers died and one was injured in an accident when an embankment collapsed beneath their armoured personnel carriers north of Baghdad, the military said Tuesday. The soldiers belonged to the 2nd Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade.
The deaths bring to 448 the number of U.S. soldiers who have died in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion on March 20. Of those, 308 have died as a result of hostile action.