TOKYO – Japan's lower house of parliament (search) agreed Friday to send ground troops to help in the reconstruction in Iraq (search), in what would be Tokyo's most visible international peacekeeping role yet.
Under the bill, Japanese troops would serve a non-combat role, mainly moving supplies and ammunition.
The bill now goes before the less-powerful upper house, where it is all but assured of passing by the end of the current parliamentary session on July 28.
The order would deliver on Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's (search) pledge to President Bush to help rebuild Iraq. Japan was a major U.S. backer during the Iraq war.
Japanese media have reported that the government intends to send about 1,000 troops as early as October.
Koizumi's ruling coalition dominates the lower house and pushed the bill through despite strong resistance from the opposition parties.
Critics say the plan could allow Japanese troops to get drawn into combat in violation of Japan's post-World War II pacifist constitution, which is interpreted as restricting the military to defensive missions.
The main opposition Democratic Party of Japan submitted a revised bill Wednesday, providing for Japan to help in Iraq without dispatching the military. It was rejected by the ruling coalition.
Koizumi has made expanding Japan's peacekeeping role a top priority, seeking to avoid the criticism it faced after the Gulf War in 1991 of "checkbook diplomacy" for pledging money instead of manpower.
His coalition pushed through legislation in 2001 that allowed Japan to send ships and troops for logistical sea support for the U.S. anti-terrorism campaign in Afghanistan, marking some of the first such deployments.
Koizumi supported the U.S.-led war in Iraq, but has so far limited his support to $100 million in financial aid.
Earlier Friday, Koizumi's Cabinet approved the deployment of three C-130s and one U-4 transport plane to ferry food, medicine and other supplies to the Iraqi border, where the supplies will be transferred to trucks.
The planes do not have U.N. approval to land in Iraq, Japan's Air Self-Defense Forces spokesman Chiyohiro Akamine said.
The planes, carrying about 150 military personnel, will leave Monday for Jordan for a three-month mission, according to a Cabinet Office statement.