Japan is considering deploying troops to two cities in southern Iraq with relatively stable security as part of its assistance in the reconstruction effort, government sources said Sunday.

With U.S. President George W. Bush’s visit to Japan on Friday, the Japanese government is expected to choose either the city of Nasiriya or Samawa and make preparations to draw up a basic plan to jump-start the Ground Self-Defense Force dispatch, the sources said.

The decision would come amid continued attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and an unstable security situation there.

A fact-finding mission to Iraq returned home Thursday. The team, comprising more than 10 officials from the Cabinet Secretariat, the Defense Agency and the Foreign Ministry, left for Iraq Sept. 14.

The team will soon report the findings of its three-week mission to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, and the government will decide on the deployment.

The GSDF troops are expected to help provide water, electricity and medical supplies to area residents.

Apart from Nasiriya and Samawa, the team toured other locations in southern Iraq, such as Basra and Umm Qasr, as well as Baghdad and Mosul in the north.

The mission found Baghdad had the worst security problems, followed by areas in the north. Cities in the south, where many Shiite Muslims live, were more secure.

According to the sources, Samawa, a city of several hundred thousand about 250 km south-southeast of Baghdad, is in dire need of better water services.

Dutch troops are currently in charge of security there, and the mission noted they have worked with Japanese forces in past U.N. peacekeeping operations.

The other leading candidate site, Nasiriya, is a city of 560,000 and also geographically convenient for Japanese troops to receive supplies as it is about 200 km from the Iraq-Kuwait border, a distance that can be traveled by car in a few hours.

The dispatch of Self-Defense Forces personnel to Iraq was made possible after enactment of a special law in July. The law requires the Cabinet to adopt the basic plan for SDF activities, including target zones and size, equipment and duration of the SDF dispatch.

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