TOKYO, Jan 26: Japan ordered the dispatch of its main army contingent to help rebuild Iraq on Monday after the junior party in the ruling coalition approved the mission.
The first of what will be a force of up to 600 ground troops could leave early next month, the latest military personnel to be sent on Japan's riskiest overseas deployment since World War Two.
"The security situation is relatively stable and personnel were welcomed by the local people, tribal chiefs and the governor," Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told parliament.
Koizumi, leader of the dominant Liberal Democratic Party, later met Takenori Kanzaki, head of the New Komeito party coalition partner, who gave the mission his approval.
The Buddhist-backed New Komeito had expressed reservations about the deployment, and its concerns must be allayed about each stage of the mission, which will involve the deployment of about 1,000 people, including air force and navy personnel.
In addition to the ground troops, Defence Minister Shigeru Ishiba said he had ordered the dispatch of a navy team for the mission. "It is to respond to the feelings and needs of people who face a shortage of water, want to go to school...and want to see doctors, and who are waiting for our country's help," he told reporters.
Ishiba said reinforcing relations with Japan's main security ally, the United States, was another consideration. Critics say sending the military to Iraq violates Japan's pacifist constitution, and many worry about the safety of the troops. Japan's armed forces have not fired a shot in combat for nearly 60 years.
Concerns were renewed when an attack near Baghdad on a truck carrying a mobile home for Japanese troops killed a Jordanian driver on Sunday, but Tokyo officials said the attack did not appear to have been directed at Japan.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said the truck did not have any markings on the outside that clearly indicated its links to Japan. "It wasn't something specifically aimed at Japan," he said.
About 80 ground troops could depart as early as February 3. Media reports said a naval transport ship, carrying equipment and supplies, and an escort vessel may leave in late February.
Three C-130 cargo aircraft with about 50 air force personnel left earlier on Monday, following about 100 air force personnel who left last Thursday.-Reuters