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Japanese Forces Begin Iraq Pullout

File photo: Japanese soldiers in Iraq.
by Essam al-Sudani
Basra, Iraq (AFP) Jun 25, 2006
Japan began withdrawing from Iraq Sunday five days after deciding to end its first overseas military deployment since World War II in a country where hostilities are ongoing. A convoy of more than a dozen military vehicles and engineering equipment used in reconstruction work left the Japanese base in the southern province of Muthanna for Kuwait.

Military officials in Samawa confirmed that the withdrawal of Japan's 600-strong force from Iraq had begun.

The convoy left the Samawa base at around 6:45 am (0245 GMT) and is now in Kuwait, a Japanese military official said. However none of the 600 soldiers stationed in Samawa formed part of the convoy.

"We are fully ready and willing to help the withdrawal of our troops from Samawa, placing utmost priority on their security," a Japanese squad leader stationed in Kuwait told Japanese public broadcaster NHK.

His squad of some 30 personnel is in charge of supporting the withdrawal.

About 100 more Japanese ground troops are expected in Kuwait to support the Iraq pullout, NHK said.

Japan ordered its troops to leave Iraq on June 20, ending its first military mission since World War II to a country where fighting is under way. The withdrawal is expected to be complete by late July.

The mission relies on British and Australian troops for protection in Iraq as its own troops are barred from using force.

Last week Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced that Iraq would assume responsibility for security in Muthanna province -- the first such handover of a region from coalition troops to fledgling Iraqi forces.

Japan's military mission, which has helped reconstruct the relatively peaceful area around the city of Samawa since January 2004, is the first of its kind since Japan was forced by the United States to renounce war after World War II.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said he was bringing home the troops as they have accomplished their goal of rebuilding the relatively peaceful southern region.

Koizumi, who touts his personal friendship with US President George W. Bush, went ahead with the Iraq deployment despite domestic opposition in a country that has been firmly pacifist for six decades.

The Japanese troops suffered no casualties and did not fire their weapons.

Japan also sent troops to Cambodia in 1993 as part of a UN force and some troops to Thailand and Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami disaster. More recently, it sent military medical teams to Indonesia following its latest deadly earthquake.

Maliki telephoned Koizumi Thursday to thank him for the humanitarian aid provided by Japanese soldiers.

Koizumi promised Japan's continuing commitment to help Iraq rebuild itself.

"Although the Ground Self Defense Force troops will withdraw, the Air Self Defense Force troops will offer transport assistance," Koizumi told Maliki. "We will also proactively help through yen loans."

Bush is also under pressure to bring home at least some of the roughly 130,000 US forces in Iraq, but he has rejected setting any kind of withdrawal timetable.

Senior US military and diplomatic officials, as well as Iraqis, have suggested a drawdown over the next six months to one year.

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi has said the Italian contingent, once the fourth largest in Iraq, will be pulled out by the end of the year.

But Australian Prime Minister John Howard said in May that a premature withdrawal of coalition troops would be "the worst thing that could happen".

Howard said current troop levels in Iraq, including the US troops, 8,000 from Britain and 900 Australians, would not be changed in the foreseeable future.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Senate Democrats Airing Split On Iraq
Washington (UPI) Jun 22, 2006
The Senate is expected to debate two Iraq resolutions today calling for the phased withdrawal of troops from Iraq, both offered by influential Democrats who last week were not able to close their differences in private meetings.

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