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Japan melts on troops to Iraq

Tokyo, June 13 (Reuters): Japan’s ruling party today gave backing to a controversial Bill allowing the government to send troops to Iraq, a move sure to please Washington but stir worries at home that Japan is departing from its pacifist constitution.

The law, aimed at giving Japan a higher profile in reconstructing the war-torn country, has already been heavily criticised as going against a constitution that has been interpreted to mean the military is restricted to self-defence.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the dominant force in the ruling coalition, endorsed the Bill following much wrangling, paving the way for approval by the Cabinet later today.

The LDP had been expected to approve the Bill yesterday, but failed to reach a decision after many party members voiced opposition to the Bill, saying it would put the Self-Defence Forces (SDF) in danger or involve them in military action.

While the troops will only be sent to areas “free of military conflict”, critics have pointed to the repeated attacks on US forces there as showing there is no such thing. Coupled with the tight limit on the SDF’s use of weapons, they say the Bill will put Japanese soldiers in danger.

Koizumi brushed off such charges, saying on Thursday: “How do you define danger' There is no war going on there...We would not send the SDF to a place where fighting was still going on.”

The Bill is likely to be passed in the current session of parliament. The Bill’s approval by the LDP came on the same day as the enactment of so-called crisis laws aimed at boosting Japan’s ability to defend itself, which also drew criticism from some quarters.

A mission to Iraq would mainly provide logistical support to US forces, marking another tentative step by Japan to wards playing a greater role in global security.

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