Profuse thanks poured from Japanese politicians Tuesday following an announcement by Australian Prime Minister John Howard that his country was dispatching 450 additional troops to southern Iraq to safeguard the Self-Defense Forces providing humanitarian assistance there.
``We are extremely grateful,'' said Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda. ``The government of Japan welcomes and applauds the decision.''
Providing security for the 600 SDF members based in Samawah had been a major headache for the government ever since the Dutch announced they were pulling out their 1,400 troops in March.
Britain, which is in charge of overall security in the southern half of Iraq, had agreed to step in by dispatching about 600 troops to provide security for the SDF. But, with the announcement by Australia, Britain will now likely send only about 150 troops to join the 450 Australians.
Hosoda said Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi called Howard asking for Australian troop assistance following discussions with the British.
``Koizumi contacted (Howard) because the British said that Australia would be willing,'' Hosoda explained.
Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura also released a statement Tuesday praising the Australian decision.
``We will hold discussions on the specific ways in which Japan, Britain and Australia can cooperate,'' Machimura said.
Some Japanese officials had maintained local Iraqi law enforcement could provide protection after the Dutch pullout.
In addition to the general unrest throughout much of Iraq, some feared anti-British sentiment in the region stemming from its past history over there.
In Canberra, Howard said he made the decision to send additional Australian troops after receiving requests from both Koizumi and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Howard was quoted by The Associated Press as saying: ``I believe this is the right decision. It will make a significant contribution to the coalition effort; it will make a significant contribution to the rebuilding of Iraq.''
Although Australia has been solidly behind the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, the decision to dispatch troops to Iraq was never popular with the public.
``This has not been, is not and will not be an easy decision for the government; I know it will be unpopular with many,'' Howard said.
About 300 Australian troops are presently providing security around Baghdad, while another 600 are ferrying supplies to Iraq from the Persian Gulf.
The new detachment will include a cavalry squadron, an infantry company and a team to train local forces, Howard told a news conference in Canberra.
Howard said it would take about 10 weeks for the new troops to prepare for their trip to Iraq and that they would likely stay there for a year.(IHT/Asahi: February 23,2005)