Japanese Defence Minister Yoshinori Ohno said on Sunday night at Kuwait airport on his way home that his trip to Iraq had left him with a positive impression of security for his report to Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

"Right now we have not yet decided whether we will extend the stay of the Japanese Self-Defence Forces or not but this time I wanted to come over here to look at the situation of security in Samawa with my own eyes," Ohno said.

"And also I wanted to encourage the personnel of the Japanese Self-Defence Forces. Then I wanted to discuss the problems concerned with some distinguished people in Samawa," he added.

Extension

Late last month, Ohno hinted at the extension of the Iraq mission, saying on NHK public television that reconstruction was still under way "so we must continue the support".

Koizumi's cabinet is expected on Friday to extend the troops' mission for possibly another year beyond its initial deadline of 14 December 2004, media reports in Japan have said.

Critics say the mission is contrary
to Japan's pacifist constitution

Koizumi, a close ally of US President George Bush, expended considerable political capital to support the US-led war on Iraq last year and to send about 600 troops to Samawa in southern Iraq.

They are involved in humanitarian and reconstruction work, such as providing water supply, but critics of the mission say it violates Japan's pacifist constitution.

Asked how he found the security situation in Samawa, Ohno replied: "The security for the Japanese Self-Defence Forces is quite stable, good. Of course there are one or two incidents.
For example, rockets were shot towards the direction of the Japanese Self-Defence Forces camp, etc."

There have been no casualties to date in the riskiest and most controversial mission by Japan's military since the second world war.