Japan will dispatch an advance unit of Ground Self-Defense Force troops to Iraq as early as December under a special law to support the rehabilitation of the country, government sources said Saturday.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will outline the plan when U.S. President George W. Bush visits Tokyo on Oct. 17, they said.

The advance GSDF unit, which will consist of 100 personnel, will be sent to southern Iraq because the area is relatively secure and make preparations for the full deployment of GSDF troops.

The main deployment, which is likely to number between 600 and 700 personnel, will be involved in providing medical and water supplies, as well as improving the nation’s infrastructure, the sources said.

The mission will last about two years, although the duration will depend on the security situation, they said.

The Japanese government had initially decided to postpone the dispatch until next year after considering the instability in Iraq and the domestic political situation, where a general election is expected.

But the government relented under growing pressure from the United States to contribute troops as soon as possible.

By sending GSDF elements to Iraq, the government hopes to show its support for the U.S., which has been under fire as it struggles to rebuild Iraq, the sources said.

Japan’s decision also stems from lessons it learned in the Gulf War in 1991, when Japan suffered diplomatic embarrassment despite its huge financial disbursement of $13 billion.

This time, the government hopes to regain its international status by providing assistance in personnel in addition to financial contributions.

Under legislation enacted in July, which will be valid for four years, SDF units will provide logistic support for U.S.-led forces maintaining security in Iraq, provide humanitarian assistance to Iraqis and rebuild the nation’s infrastructure.

The dispatch must be approved by the Diet within 20 days of the dispatch order.

The new law stipulates that the SDF’s operations be limited to “noncombat” areas to avoid situations in which SDF personnel would be pressed to use their military might — a sensitive issue under the war-renouncing Constitution.

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