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Japan to extend air mission to Iraq

Tue Mar 20, 9:17 AM ET

Japan plans to extend its air support mission to Iraq for another two years, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday on the fourth anniversary of the US-led invasion.

Japan last year ended its historic deployment of troops on a reconstruction mission to Iraq, but continues to provide logistical air support to the US-led coalition and the United Nations.

"We would like to continue fulfilling our responsibility in the reconstruction of Iraq," Abe told reporters.

"Having considered the current situation in Iraq and developments in the international community, I asked for the ruling party's approval on the extension of the air force mission by two years," Abe said.

Abe's Liberal Democratic Party on Tuesday approved the plan to extend the current mission, which expires at the end of July.

The bill is seen as certain to pass as the ruling coalition has an overwhelming majority in parliament.

Iraq had asked Japan to extend its air force mission which its Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki described in a letter to Abe as playing a "vital role" in the nation's reconstruction efforts.

Japan's Defence Minister Fumio Kyuma -- who caused a stir earlier this year when he said the United States was "wrong" to invade Iraq -- indicated that he hopes to visit Iraq to inspect the conditions there himself.

"I have a wish to visit Iraq to see with my own eyes the security situation to examine if the Air Self-Defence Force can continue its mission without any problems," Kyuma told reporters.

Japan's deployment of 600 troops to Iraq marked the first time since World War II that Tokyo had sent soldiers to a country where fighting was underway.

Japan continues to station some 210 air force personnel in Kuwait to fly people and supplies into Iraq.

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