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Japanese Soldiers Head Home As Iraq Mission Ends

Japanese troops in Iraq. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Jay Deshmukh
Baghdad (AFP) Jul 07, 2006
Japanese troops in Iraq began heading home Friday as the first batch of 38 soldiers were flown out by British military choppers as part of the announced withdrawal, a military source said. "Thirty-eight Japanese soldiers left Iraq today. The actual troop withdrawal has started," the source told AFP, adding the soldiers left for Kuwait.

Japan ordered its 600 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 completed by late July.

While the withdrawal of Japanese troops from the southern province of Muthanna began on Friday, Japan has been moving its military vehicles and engineering equipment out of Iraq since June 20.

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

The British military when contacted declined to comment on the troop withdrawal.

In June 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.

Announcing the plan to bring home the troops, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi had said the troops had accomplished their goal of rebuilding the relatively peaceful 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.

During their mission in Iraq, 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.

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

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".

Source: Agence France-Presse

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