Bodies of Japanese killed in Iraq return home


The bodies of two Japanese diplomats killed in Iraq last weekend have arrived in Japan and were met by an honour guard.

Katsuhiko Oku (45) and Masamori Inoue (30) became the first Japanese killed in Iraq since the US-led invasion in March when they were gunned down on Saturday in an ambush near Saddam Hussein's home town of Tikrit.

Mr Oku, who had gone to Iraq in April and was Japan's representative at the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority, had travelling widely to determine areas where Japan could help in rebuilding efforts.

Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi was among the officials who met the plane.  The funerals of the two men, to be attended by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, will take place on Saturday.

The deaths and intensifying attacks against non-US personnel in Iraq have intensified debate in Japan over whether to proceed with a planned deployment of troops to the country.

But domestic media said today that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's cabinet was likely to approve next week a plan to allow the dispatch of some 1,000 military personnel - Japan's biggest overseas military deployment since World War II.