Tokyo, Feb 25: Japan is considering withdrawing its non-combat ground troops from Iraq in two phases between April and June, and may announce the plan next month, the Nihon Keizai newspaper said today (Feb 25, 2006).
Earlier reports had said Japan would begin withdrawing the troops; who are on a reconstruction mission in southern Iraq -- from March and the pullout would end in May.
The troop dispatch is Japan's riskiest military mission since World War Two and has won praise from close ally Washington, but is opposed by most Japanese voters.
The newspaper said in the report not sourced to anybody that the government may call a special cabinet meeting in March to formally decide on the withdrawal.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi would then announce the decision, it said, adding that the government was considering withdrawing the troops in two phases between April and June.
Japanese air force units will remain in the region, the newspaper said.
The newspaper said that Japanese foreign ministry and defence ministry officials had begun talks in London yesterday with their counterparts from the United States, Britain and Australia to pave the way for the withdrawal.
With their activities strictly limited by Japan's pacifist constitution, the roughly 550 Japanese ground troops based in the southern Iraqi city of Samawa rely heavily on British and Australian forces to maintain security in the area.
The troops have been engaged in reconstruction activities such as repairing buildings and providing medical training.
Japan said last week that it had yet to decide when to withdraw its ground troops from Iraq.