Iraq Report: January 23, 2004

JAPAN’S SELF-DEFENSE FORCE ARRIVES IN SAMAWAH.
An advance team from Japan’s Self-Defense Force arrived in Samawah, Iraq, on 19 January to set up a base camp within the Dutch base in that city, Kyodo World Service reported on 20 January. The advance team, which arrived from Kuwait, will prepare for some 550 ground troops expected to arrive in the coming weeks. “The advance unit’s duty is to gather information related to [local] security and humanitarian reconstruction aid necessary for activities of the main units,” said Colonel Masahisa Sato, who heads the team. “We want to [also] hold discussions with the [Iraqis]…about what they expect in assistance.” Japan’s deployment of troops will make it the 39th country to join the coalition on the ground in Iraq, Kyodo reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

‘REBUILD IRAQ 2004’ EXPO OPENS IN KUWAIT.
Kuwaiti Commerce and Industry Minister Abdullah al-Taweel opened the “Rebuild Iraq 2004” exposition in Kuwait on 19 January, KUNA reported. More than 1,100 companies from 45 countries are participating in the exposition, offering a wide range of products and services to the Iraqi reconstruction effort. The Arab Gulf states, as well as Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Tunisia are taking part in the five-day exposition, which will close on 23 January. For more information, visit the expo website (http://www.rebuild-iraq-expo.com). (Kathleen Ridolfo)

KUWAIT DENIES IT IS PREVENTING IRAQI PILGRIMS FROM CROSSING BORDER.
Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Shaykh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah denied 18 January news reports alleging that Kuwaiti authorities had prevented Iraqi pilgrims from passing through Kuwait to Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj, KUNA reported. The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, and all Muslims who are able should make the ritual journey once in their lifetimes. KUNA, the official Kuwaiti state news agency, also issued a report on the same day that said that the Kuwaiti Red Crescent Society delivered some 5,000 boxes of food supplies to the Iraqi border town of Safwan to aid Iraqi pilgrims on their journey. Approximately 170 pilgrims reportedly crossed the border on 18 January and traveled to the Kuwait International Airport to board flights to Mecca, KUNA reported.

Meanwhile, soldiers from the U.S. Task Force All American have quietly been assisting Iraqi security forces in facilitating the safe travel of Iraqis participating in the Hajj, according to a 20 January press release posted on the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) website (http://www.centcom.mil). CENTCOM reported that over 2,400 pilgrims crossed the Ar’ar border crossing into Saudi Arabia this week. Iraqi border guards and customs agents are running the border crossing, including traffic control into Saudi Arabia, while Iraqi Civil Defense Corps troops and Red Crescent volunteers have worked to secure the travel routes and rest areas. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

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