Thursday’s kidnapping of three Japanese civilians in Iraq has exposed the government’s ill-preparedness for crises, especially those involving terrorists.

Though government officials stressed Friday that they had prepared a crisis-management manual in advance and acted accordingly, observers and some government insiders pointed out that the government lacks the ability to gather critical information, as well as the contacts necessary to deal with this kind of crisis.

“Measures to deal with crisis management vary from case to case. But the basics are unchanged,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said, adding that the government has acted in accordance with the manual.

Taking a lesson from the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995, in which the government was severely criticized for failing to act swiftly, the manual drafted in November spells out how information should be conveyed to the prime minister, along with steps to relay information from related ministries to the Prime Minister’s Official Residence.

The government received its first information on the kidnapping around 6:20 p.m. on Thursday. A special headquarters to deal with the incident was set up at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence by 7:10 p.m.

Following the incident, Ground Self-Defense Force units in Samawah also decided to take Japanese journalists into temporary protective custody — if the journalists so wish.

But some officials admit the government is lacking in personnel and information necessary to protect Japanese nationals in Iraq amid the unstable security situation there.

“Since the incident of Mr. Oku, the Foreign Ministry left only a minimum number of officials” in Iraq, said one Japanese official who asked not to be named.

“We have not been able to grasp the situation (on Japanese in Iraq) due to a lack of staff.” In November, Japanese envoys Katsuhiko Oku and Masamori Inoue were assassinated in an ambush in northern Iraq.

On Friday, the Foreign Ministry announced there are about 70 Japanese nationals in Iraq other than SDF personnel in the southern city of Samawah.

But a ministry executive admitted there might be more Japanese in Iraq, indicating the government has not kept complete track of all the Japanese who enter the country.

“Our embassy’s ability to protect everybody in Baghdad is limited,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hatsuhisa Takashima told a news conference Friday. “They (embassy officials) have to protect themselves.”

Nobuhiko Suto, a Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker and an expert on crisis management, pointed out that the government should have done a better job of preventing the kidnapping, as incidents of this kind involving Japanese nationals were highly predictable.

The ministry should have known that the three people held hostage were heading for Iraq in advance and persuaded them not to go, Suto said, adding Japan lacks the ability to gather intelligence.

“The United States and European countries keep contact with both the government and antigovernment groups of a country concerned, so that they have sufficient channels to deal with this kind of situation,” Suto said. “But that is not the case in Japan.”

The DPJ lawmaker urged Japan to create a comprehensive system to deal with future crises at home and abroad, such as training special agents in intelligence and negotiation strategies and creating think tanks specializing in crisis management.

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