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Poll: Most Japanese against Iraq mission

More than 60 percent of Japanese are against extending the mission of the country’s military in Iraq, according to a newspaper poll Thursday.
/ Source: Reuters

More than 60 percent of Japanese are against extending the mission of the country’s military in Iraq, a newspaper poll showed on Thursday, three weeks before the government has to decide whether to carry on or pull out.

In the survey published by the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, 61 percent of respondents opposed extending the mission and said the troops should pull out. Only 25 percent said the military should remain in Iraq beyond the Dec. 14 deadline.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, a staunch ally of U.S. President George W. Bush, is believed to be leaning towards extending the deployment, but the worsening security situation has raised concerns about the safety of the Japanese troops.

In line with Japan’s pacifist constitution, the 550 members of the Self-Defense Force stationed in the southern Iraqi city of Samawa are only allowed to operate in a “non-combat” zone, carrying out humanitarian and reconstruction work.

Opposition parties have said that Samawa no longer meets the criteria given recent attacks on the Japanese camp and on Dutch forces who are in charge of maintaining security in southern Iraq.

The Japanese camp in Samawa has been hit by rocket shells, although there have been no casualties.

On Wednesday, a large explosion was heard on the outskirts of Samawa near a Dutch camp, Kyodo news agency said.

The Dutch government has decided to bring its troops home in March and its defense minister is due to visit Tokyo next week to discuss Iraq.

In the newspaper poll, 54 percent of those who wanted the troops to come home cited deteriorating security conditions in Iraq as the reason and 44 percent said the Japanese military should have never gone in the first place.

Koizumi has expended considerable political capital to support the U.S. in Iraq and send troops despite opposition from a majority of the public and critics who say the mission violates the country’s pacifist constitution.

According to the newspaper poll, the support rate for the prime minister’s cabinet stood at 44 percent, unchanged from the previous survey in September, while the disapproval rate was up one point at 40 percent.