TOKYO -- A senior ruling party official pledged Saturday to push for a new law allowing Japanese troops a significant role in the postwar reconstruction of Iraq if there is a military conflict.
Secretary General Taku Yamasaki of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party said he wanted to see the law passed in the upcoming session of Parliament, which reconvenes Jan. 20.
"I think Japan's role in reconstruction and dealing with refugees is extremely big," Yamasaki said at a meeting of supporters in the southern city of Fukuoka.
Japan, like many other countries, is expecting a U.S. attack on Iraq.
So far Tokyo -- one of Washington's closest allies and a firm backer of its war on terrorism -- has been treading carefully around how far it would go to back an offensive against Saddam Hussein.
While eager to avoid the criticism it faced during the 1991 Gulf War for its "checkbook diplomacy" of offering mostly money, Japan's role is limited by a post-World War II constitution that the use of military force in resolving international conflicts. Legislation was rushed through last fall to permit logistical support for the U.S. war on terror.
Yamasaki said the new law should permit members of Japan's Self-Defense Forces to aid reconstruction efforts in Iraq.
Japanese troops have been sent abroad in recent years, but usually under the auspices of the United Nations and for humanitarian missions.