Giving a boost to the U.S.-led occupation, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's Cabinet on Tuesday approved a plan to send about 1,000 soldiers to help in Iraq's reconstruction in that nation's biggest overseas troop deployment since World War II.
The attack at the army base occurred at 4:45 a.m. local time when a car drove to the gate of the base in Talafar, 30 miles west of the northern city of Mosul. Guards at the gate and in a watchtower opened fire on the vehicle and moments later it blew up, leaving a large crater at the gate's entryway.
Later Tuesday, another suicide bomber blew himself up outside a U.S. Army compound near Baghdad, lightly injuring two soldiers, the U.S. military said.
A man acting suspiciously walked toward the gates of the base in Husseiniya, 15 miles northeast of Baghdad, said Maj. Josslyn Aberle, a U.S. military spokeswoman. When military police guarding the gate opened fire, he activated an explosive device and blew himself up. BEGIN POSITION 3 END POSITION 3
Col. Michael Linnington, commander of the 3rd Brigade which controls the area west of Mosul and all the way to the Syrian border, said the attack was a suicide mission and that the attacker's remains were "all over the compound."
"Right now we have four soldiers that were evacuated and are being treated for blast injuries. In addition, 37 soldiers have nicks, cuts, bruises and some broken bones," he said. A base translator was also injured in the blast, which damaged nearby homes. Several other civilians, including a 2-year-old girl, were hurt by flying glass.
The early morning blast occurred when most soldiers were still in their barracks, and there was no traffic around the gate.
Pieces of the attacker's car were scattered hundreds of meters away from the site of the blast. A school across the street from the military compound was heavily damaged, but no pupils were injured because the bomb exploded before classes began.
Hazem Ismail, a 40-year-old school teacher, said several pieces of the car hit his house, shattering the window of room where his five children were sleeping.
"The kids woke up terrified from their beds, but thank God none of them were harmed," he said.
Meanwhile, three U.S. soldiers from the 2nd Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade died and one was injured in an accident when an embankment collapsed beneath their armored personnel carriers north of Baghdad, the military said Tuesday.
The deaths bring to 448 the number of U.S. soldiers who have died in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion on March 20. Of those, 308 have died as a result of hostile action.
In Baghdad, three people were killed and two injured early Tuesday when a missile exploded in the courtyard of a mosque in the capital's western Hurriyah district, police said.
Ahmed Hussein, the mosque's prayer leader, said the explosion occurred at 6:45 a.m. and that it damaged the building and several cars parked nearby.
"Those who carried out the attack have nothing to do with any religion," said Farouk Khamis, the mosque's imam. "They are ordinary criminals who targeted believers doing their prayers."
In Tokyo, Koizumi's Cabinet on Tuesday approved the dispatch of about 1,000 soldiers to southeastern Iraq, where they will restore water services, offer medical and other humanitarian assistance and help rebuild schools. The dispatch, expected to begin over the next month, will involve elements of Japan's land, sea and air forces.
Following the Cabinet meeting, Koizumi went before the nation to explain why he is pushing ahead with the controversial plan, which opposition leaders say could draw the troops into combat and violate Japan's postwar pacifist constitution.
"We are not going to war," Koizumi said. "The situation in Iraq is severe. We know it is not necessarily safe. But our Self-Defense Forces must still fulfill this mission."
The outline announced Tuesday left the timing of the dispatch open, though a small advance contingent is expected to leave before the end of the year. Japan's defense minister was expected to set the date by early next week.
The total number of troops would be about 1,000, making it the largest overseas deployment since World War II, according to the Defense Agency.
The troops will stay for six months to one year, news reports said.
Opponents of the dispatch say Iraq is still not secure. Such dangers were underscored last weekend, when two diplomats were gunned down near the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit.
Increased concerns about security have already prompted an exodus of international aid organizations and foreign diplomats.
On Tuesday, guards at the embassy of Bangladesh in Baghdad said the ambassador and his four-member staff had left the country. There was no immediate explanation for the departure.
In Baghdad, about 250 people rallied Tuesday in the center of town to protest the death of a Shiite cleric, who they said was struck by a tank Friday while standing in the street in the mainly Shiite Sadr City district.
The protesters chanted "No, no to America," and demanded that the U.S. military apologize for Sheik Abdel Razzaq al-Lami's death and bring to trial those responsible.
The U.S. military had no immediate comment on the incident.