Japan Postpones Humanitarian Mission

Alarmed by the murder of two of its diplomats in Iraq, Japan (search) has decided to postpone sending a team of engineers and doctors to help with the country's reconstruction, a report said Tuesday.

Senior officials also suggested Japan should consider assigning military guards to its delegations abroad.

The team of dozens of engineers and medical personnel was to leave for humanitarian work in Baghdad, Basra and Mosul by the end of the year, according to a report in the Asahi newspaper.

Foreign Ministry officials said the team's departure date had not yet been fixed, but declined to comment further.

Tokyo had earlier ditched plans to send an official to Iraq to investigate the killings, sending him to nearby Kuwait (search) instead.

Saturday's ambush on a roadside near the northern city of Tikrit (search) -- resulting in the first deaths of Japanese in Iraq since the war began in March -- has raised wider concerns about the safety of Japanese officials abroad.

"All other countries have armed forces to protect themselves, or if not an army, a policing capability close to that," Senior Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Ichiro Aisawa said Tuesday. "At present, only Japan has to ask for protection from a private company."

Japan's pacifist constitution severely restricts the military's role. A special law had to be passed in July to approve a dispatch of non-combat troops, which Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi (search) had hoped to carry out before the end of the year.

The constitutional limitations are so strict that the new law only allows the troops to go to areas deemed safe. A provision was even required to allow them to carry weapons -- but only to defend themselves under fire.

Koizumi has stood by his pledges to send the troops, repeating Tuesday his desire to deploy them "as soon as the situation is stable enough." He had hoped to get Cabinet approval this week to send them to the relatively more secure southern part of Iraq, but he faces increasing resistance.

Results of a Mainichi newspaper poll reported Monday showed more than 80 percent of Japanese had reservations about sending troops to Iraq.