Japan to send 1,000 on rebuild mission

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Japan is to send about 1,000 soldiers to help rebuild Iraq, the country's biggest deployment of troops overseas since the Second World War.

In a nationally televised news conference, Junichiro Koizumi, the Prime Minister, explained his decision to a public that has opposed the deploymentbecause of concerns that it would risk troops' lives and make Japan a target for international terrorist groups.

"Rebuilding Iraq is necessary for the stability of the entire Middle East and the rest of the world, and is in Japan's best interests," Mr Koizumi said.

Mr Koizumi's cabinet held a special meeting to approve the mission to south-eastern Iraq, where troops will restore water services, offer medical and humanitarian assistance and help rebuild roads, bridges and transport links.

Mr Koizumi said that the area of Iraq where the troops were going would not be completely safe. But he stressed that Japan should not shrink from its international responsibilities, or its commitments to the United States. Two Japanese diplomats were shot dead near the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit on 29 November.

Polls indicate that about a third of voters back Mr Koizumi's plan.