Report: Japan to exit Iraq with Brits, Aussies

/ Source: The Associated Press

Japan will withdraw its non-combat troops deployed in southern Iraq at the same time that British and Australian troops are pulled out, a news report said Tuesday.

Defense Agency Director General Fukushiro Nukaga told the U.S. officially for the first time Monday in Washington of the terms under which Japan plans to pull out the 600 troops it has stationed in the town of Samawah on a humanitarian mission, Kyodo News agency reported. The Japanese government has said in the past that it would consult with Britain and Australia before making any decisions to withdraw troops from Iraq and would take into consideration the political and security situation there.

A Defense Ministry spokeswoman told The Associated Press in response to the Kyodo report that the policy had not changed. She spoke on condition of anonymity according to department policy.

Speaking at a meeting of senior U.S. and Japanese defense and foreign ministry officials, Nukaga also said Japan plans to keep the C-130 transport aircraft it has stationed in Kuwait for airlifting supplies in the region after the withdrawal, Kyodo said.

Japan has about 600 non-combat troops to help with water purification and other humanitarian projects. But public opinion polls show the majority of Japanese oppose the mission, which has been criticized as a violation of the pacifist constitution. Many say the deployment has made Japan a target for terrorism.

Australia, a staunch supporter of the U.S.-led invasion, repeatedly has said it will keep forces in the country until they no longer are needed. Australia has a total 1,320 troops in and around Iraq, including the forces in the south, a diplomatic protection unit in Baghdad and the crew of a navy ships patrolling the Persian Gulf.

Britain in March announced cuts of about 10 percent in its force of 8,000 in Iraq, the second largest foreign force there after the United States.