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Japanese troops to relieve current group

TOKYO, May 8 (UPI) -- A Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force contingent left Japan Saturday for Iraq as the first batch of troops to relieve those already deployed in Iraq.

The unit left on a government plane from the Air Self-Defense Force Chitose base in Hokkaido after attending a flag presentation ceremony and receiving words of encouragement from Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Kyodo News Service reported Saturday.

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The dispatch, the first of three batches of troops to be sent this month, took place amid deteriorating security in Iraq, as seen in the recent kidnapping of Japanese civilians and mortar shell attacks near the GSDF camp in Samawah, Iraq.

It will be the first rotation of troops since a GSDF advance team entered Samawah in mid-January.

The troops will undergo training in Kuwait before heading to Iraq to take over duties of the GSDF team there.

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