50,000 Iraqi ‘Ghost Soldiers’ Make $380 Million a Year
Policy + Politics

50,000 Iraqi ‘Ghost Soldiers’ Make $380 Million a Year

The Pentagon is asking Congress for $1.2 billion to train and equip the bedraggled Iraqi Army in the coming year in the battle against ISIS – but just finding the soldiers to train may pose a major challenge. 

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi disclosed Sunday that his country’s army has been paying the salaries of at least 50,000 soldiers who simply don’t exist. In this latest wrinkle in the long, sorry saga of corruption within the Iraqi military, the fictitious soldiers have been kept on the payroll in a major scam by senior officers.

Related: If ISIS Captures Baghdad, Terror Takes a Giant Step Forward    

The Washington Post reported over the weekend that the corrupt practice is often perpetrated by officers who pretend to have more soldiers on the books than actually exist in order to pocket their salaries. With entry-level grunts pulling down about $600 a month, the unlawful practice is likely costing Iraq at least $380 million a year. But some experts say this is probably the tip of the iceberg, and that much more corruption will come to light before a full investigation is completed. 

President Obama’s plan to defeat the terror group ISIS partially hinges on training and upgrading the Iraqi army – but corruption potentially adds to the cost of what is already a very expensive proposition. The U.S. is spending roughly $7 million to $10 million a day on the air war against ISIS in northern Iraq and parts of Syria – and that doesn’t include the cost of war planes. Gordon Adams, a prominent military analyst at American University, recently estimated that the mission to stop ISIS will cost $15 billion to $20 billion a year.

Abadi, who took office in September, is under pressure to fix the corruption and graft that’s occurred for years in the military under his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki. Yet Abadi has his work cut out for him.  Hamid al-Mutlaq, a member of the parliamentary defense and security committee, told The Post the amount of stolen loot could end up being triple Abadi’s estimate.

The Iraqi military and police forces have been so riven by corruption and failed leadership that the  military virtually collapsed last spring as Islamic jihadist militants advanced. This comes after the U.S. spent roughly $25 billion on training and equipment to rebuild the Iraqi military in the past decade.

The corruption and patronage in the Iraqi government forces is so bad it threatens to undercut the new American-led effort to degrade and defeat ISIS forces – even as President Obama is doubling to 3,000 the number of American military advisers in Iraq.

Related: The Tide Is Turning Against ISIS in Iraq

Adding to the problem is the Obama administration’s insistence that the Iraqi military act as the conduit for any new aid and armaments being supplied for a counteroffensive, including money and weapons intended for tribal fighters willing to take on ISIS, as a New York Times report stated.

If the Iraqi military’s past performance is any guide, funneling billions more through the military command would be tantamount to pouring money down a rat hole. Some of the weaponry recently supplied by the U.S. army has already ended up on the black market or  in the hands of ISIS fighters. One Iraqi general is even known as “chicken guy” because of his reputation for selling his soldiers’ poultry provisions. Another, named after Iraq’s 10,000-dinar bills, “General Deftar,” is well known for selling officer commissions.

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