Japan to provide Iraq US$655 million

Japan will provide Iraq with 76.5 billion yen (US$655 million; Ђ 545 million) in loans for port reconstruction and other projects, the Foreign Ministry announced Tuesday.

The loans will help cover reconstruction of a port at Umm Qasr, irrigation projects throughout the country and renovation of a thermoelectric power plant that supplies Baghdad with some of its power, the ministry said.

The loans are part of US$3.5 billion ( Ђ 2.9 billion) in funding that Japan pledged to provide Iraq in October 2003 at a high-profile donors' meeting in Madrid, a ministry official said on condition of anonymity, citing ministry policy.

So far, Japan has disbursed 57.8 billion yen (US$494 million; Ђ 411 million) of that package.

Japan has informed Iraq of the new loans and will begin discussions of how and when they will be disbursed once Iraq's new government has been finalized, the official said.

Japan dispatched 600 troops to Iraq in 2004 to purify water and carry out other humanitarian tasks. The Japanese government has said it needs to consider the state of Iraq's reconstruction as well as the plans of other coalition partners and local safety conditions before deciding when it will withdraw the troops.

The Cabinet in December approved an extension of the troops' mission, authorizing the soldiers to stay in Iraq through the end of the year, reports the AP.

I.L.