Japan on Wednesday extended its controversial air mission to Iraq for two more years, with the upper house of parliament giving final approval.Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s coalition voted to pass the bill despite criticism from the opposition, which has pledged to pull out the troops as part of its platform for elections expected next month.The extension, which cleared the lower house in May, means that Japanese planes and some 210 air personnel will be deployed in the region until July 2009.The force, which is based in Kuwait, flies goods and personnel into Iraq on behalf of the United Nations and the U.S.-led coalition.Abe’s predecessor Junichiro Koizumi strongly supported the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, arguing that the dictator’s alleged weapons of mass destruction posed a threat.Koizumi previously sent soldiers to Iraq on a non-combat reconstruction mission, the first time since World War II that Japan had deployed troops to a nation where fighting was ongoing.The former premier pulled them out last year, but officially pacifist Japan has maintained the Kuwait-based air mission.Abe, who has weak approval ratings, has championed a more assertive role for Japan in the world and wants to rewrite the country’s pacifist, post-World War II constitution.A March survey by the liberal Asahi Shimbun newspaper showed 69 percent of voters opposed an extension of the Japanese air mission in Iraq.In a symbolic move, the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan submitted a no-confidence motion against the head of the upper house committee that approved the Iraq extension.“We blame the cabinet, and especially the prime minister, for forgetting the basic rules of representative parliamentary democracy,” said Azuma Koshiishi, an opposition lawmaker.

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