In a recent internal audit, the new Iraq government has discovered that they have 50,000 “ghost soldiers” in their midst. These soldiers are receiving army wages from the government, but not showing up to their posts to battle ISIS. It was further revealed that these soldiers were paying a portion of their salaries to their commanding officers in exchange for not being reported. This news goes a long way toward explaining why Iraq’s army is being overwhelmed by ISIS forces throughout the country.
Iraq’s Prime Minister, Haidar al-Abadi, who took office in September, launched the investigation shortly after beginning his work. According to this report in NBC News, the search for these “ghost soldiers” has been exhaustive, and is by no means complete.
“Those 50,000 soldiers were revealed after an intense search through military documents and there will be a field search in order to put an end to this phenomenon and any other form of corruption,” Rafid Jaburi, Prime Minister al-Abadi’s spokesman, told reporters. He went on to report of an incident in Mosul, where ISIS stormed the city and took it over with barely a fight. According to their records, a force of 25,000 Iraqi soldiers should have been there to defend the city, but in reality, barely 10,000 were at their posts.
Al Jazeera reports that al-Abadi forcibly “retired” 24 senior Interior Ministry officials in the wake of the scandal. He claims that this scheme went all the way to the top, and had drained millions of dollars from Iraq’s operating budget.
The Prime Minister told Al Jazeera reporters that he was saddened by the discovery, especially knowing how little money Iraq has to operate the military. “I feel sad that all that time we were paying salaries, and we don’t have money, while other soldiers are fighting and getting killed, and some soldiers are getting paid without appearing,” al-Abadi told reporters according to CNN.
Each Iraqi soldier receives around $600 per month. That means with 50,000 soldiers not showing up for their duty, they are costing Iraq at least $380 million per year. With only 800,000 total soldiers in Iraq, and more than half of them being reservists, there are less than 300,000 on active duty at any time.
Haider al-Abadi believes that there are still “ghost soldiers” to be found, and he has vowed to find and punish those who are responsible.
By Brett Gillin