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If Japanese Self-Defense Force troops get the green light to deploy to Iraq, they could be dispatched to Baghdad International Airport, which now is under U.S. control. A Japan Times report said that the airport, which now serves as a de facto U.S. base, makes it seem relatively safe. But a Japan Defense Agency spokesman, speaking on customary terms of anonymity, told Stars and Stripes that while the Japanese Diet is still debating whether to send troops to Iraq, “dispatch of SDF to Baghdad airport has probably been discussed as a possibility among others.”

He said six JDA officials, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials, are at U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla., this week, coordinating possible SDF involvement in Iraq’s reconstruction.

The agency’s deputy secretary said during a news conference that the officials are discussing reconstruction issues and “other various issues such as security.”

Still uncertain is the contentious issue of whether Japanese troops would bear arms.

Japan’s constitution strictly limits SDF troops’ use of firearms.

The Japanese Diet, or parliament, now is in extended session discussing whether to allow such a Japanese contribution to the Iraqi reconstruction effort.

The Democratic Party of Japan decided Tuesday to oppose sending any SDF troops to Iraq — a move the Japan Times reported “likely will keep the ruling and opposition camps at loggerheads for the remainder of the current Diet session.”

Still, Toshiyuki Shikata, a professor at Tokyo’s Teikyo University and a former Ground Self-Defense Force lieutenant general, predicted it is “highly likely that the Self-Defense Forces will be dispatched.”

He said he sees no looming safety concerns if Japanese troops are sent to the region.

“It is not perfectly safe since there are still small battles,” Shikata said. “However, where they will be sent will be relatively safe and will never turn into a combat zone.”

Shikata said he is confident “the bill will be passed. … If it does not pass, then that will be end of Koizumi administration.”

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi “is working to pass the bill,” Shikata said, “so if it is not passed, then it is the same as a non-confidence motion.”

— Hana Kusumoto contributed to this report

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