The House of Representatives passed a bill Friday that would allow the dispatch of Self-Defense Forces elements to Iraq.

The three ruling parties supported the bill while all members of the opposition camp voted against it.

Hiromu Nonaka and Makoto Koga, two heavyweights of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, abstained from voting in an apparent protest over the standing vote taken on the bill. They argued that a bill which puts the lives of SDF personnel on the line should have been voted on in an open ballot.

The bill will now be sent to the House of Councilors, where deliberations will begin Monday. The government hopes to have it endorsed by the full Diet before the current session adjourns July 28.

The bill allows for SDF personnel to be dispatched to “noncombat” areas in Iraq. It stipulates that they are to engage in humanitarian and reconstruction assistance, and provide logistic support for U.S. and British forces in the country.

According to government sources, about 1,000 SDF members will be dispatched, the largest ever for so-called postconflict reconstruction assistance. They will probably be dispatched in October after the government sends a fact-finding mission to Iraq in August and draws up a specific operational plan.

Transportation activities will probably be limited to supply airlifts in the beginning, due to security concerns. The SDF may later transport materials by land, including weapons and ammunition.

Following the vote, LDP Secretary General Taku Yamasaki said the party hopes to pass a permanent law stipulating the SDF’s role in postconflict reconstruction assistance so special laws will not be necessary every time Japan wants to offer aid in one of the globe’s many hot spots.

Once enacted, the Iraq law will be in effect for four years. The 2001 antiterrorism law has a two-year term, which the government and ruling bloc are trying to extend by another two years.

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