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Japan Orders Troops to Iraq

Controversial move finally given the green light...

Japan has formally ordered the dispatch of ground troops into Iraq in the country's first full deployment to a combat zone since World War II, ending months of anguished debate over the role Japan should play in the country.

Defence Agency chief Shigeru Ishiba issued the order for 600 troops hours after Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and the leader of the junior ruling coalition party agreed to send Japanese soldiers into Iraq.

The order, despite strong public opposition, ends a drawn-out domestic debate over the constitutionality of Japan's humanitarian role in Iraq.

Japan's post-war constitution outlaws the maintenance of military forces and the use of force to settle international disputes, but the troops will be allowed to defend themselves if attacked.

The first soldiers will leave around February 3, Jiji Press agency reported, and all 600 should be in place by the end of March, with logistic support from around 400 airforce and naval personnel in the region.

A similar order was issued for the navy, which will use some of its ships to transport people and supplies and equipment, the agency statement said.