• Kyodo

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About 100 ground troops returned home from Iraq on Sunday, with some voicing concern over deteriorating security in the southern city of Samawah where they were stationed.

It is the first homecoming for personnel in the 470-strong Ground Self-Defense Force unit dispatched to Samawah in May for three months to provide humanitarian and reconstruction assistance. Most members of the unit are based in Hokkaido.

The rest of the unit is expected to return in two groups by early next month, GSDF officials said.

The troops arrived at an Air Self-Defense Force base in Chitose, Hokkaido, in the morning and went to a GSDF base in Sapporo to be reunited with their relatives and see colleagues.

Some of the GSDF personnel said the numerous mortar shells that were recently fired near their camp in Samawah had been a cause of extreme concern.

“I felt like, ‘Oh, this is it’,” Maj. Nobuo Kobayashi, 45, told reporters, recalling the fear he felt. “I never took off my bulletproof jacket.”

The use of arms by troops overseas is tightly restricted by the pacifist Constitution.

Dutch troops also based in Samawah have recently come under a spate of attacks believed carried out by the Mahdi Army militia loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

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