Iraq Foreign Minister Makes Plea For Continued Japanese Presence

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Iraq's foreign minister asked Japan on Friday to extend its military mission of 600 troops in the southern Iraqi city of Samawah.

The mission expires Dec. 14 for the troops, who purify water and rebuild schools among other tasks in Samawah.

Hoshya Zebari asked Defense Chief Fukushiro Nukaga to keep the troops on beyond Dec. 14.

Nukaga said Japan is "proud" of the work its forces have done but gave no commitment on an extension.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi favors a more active role for Japan in international security and has suggested that Japan's efforts in Iraq are not finished.

Last month, Japan approved a one-year extension of its naval mission to support U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan.

Zebari, who arrived Wednesday, was scheduled to meet Koizumi later Friday.

On Thursday, Japan finalized an agreement to forgive $6.1 billion, or 80 percent, of its Iraqi debt. Japan is a member of the Paris Club of main creditor nations, which last year agreed to reduce by 80 percent the $38.9 billion Iraq owed to its member states. The United States last year forgave Iraq 100 percent of its debt of $4.1 billion.

As part of its help in the war on terror, Japan's navy has provided fuel for coalition warships in the Indian Ocean since November 2001.

Japan's constitution bans the use of force in settling international disputes, and the overseas missions are unpopular with the public.