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Phantom Menace
Iraq’s Army of Ghosts

It’s well known that Iraq’s military suffers from pervasive corruption, and that many of its soldier don’t actually exist. Now an Iraqi government investigation has reported the figures on those phantoms, and their numbers are absurdly high: 50,000 soldiers. The BBC:

A statement from the PM’s office said the payments have been stopped.

Correspondents say rampant corruption in the Iraqi army is seen as one of the reasons why it has struggled to contain Islamic State militants.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, quoted by AFP news agency, said the investigation began when the latest salary payments were made.

“Over the past few weeks, the prime minister has been cracking down to expose the ghost soldiers and get to the root of the problem,” said Rafid Jaboori.

Iraq’s new Prime Minister, Haidar al-Abadi, has been working to reform the military in other ways, but these figures show just how staggering the corruption in its ranks is. To put this number in context, at the height of its strength the Iraqi army boasted around 400,000 soldiers. After the fall of Mosul, the WaPo reports, its actual troop strength was figured to be about 85,000. The WaPo continues:

[U.S. officials said] the hope is to build nine new Iraqi army brigades — up to 45,000 light-infantry soldiers — into a vanguard force that, together with Kurdish and Shiite fighters, can shatter the Islamic State’s grip on a third of the country.

“The idea is, at least in the first instance, to try and build a kind of leaner, meaner Iraqi army,” said a senior U.S. official, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss planning.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is pushing ahead with plans to integrate Kurdish and Shi’a fighters into the army, which has its own difficulties:

U.S. officials hope the program will eventually absorb Kurdish peshmerga forces and at least some Shiite militiamen. The goal is ambitious given the likely reluctance of Kurdish or Shiite militia leaders to cede power to the central government, and the obstacle of first getting the proposal through Iraq’s fractious parliament.

Fuad Hussein, a senior official in the Kurdistan Regional Government, said Iraqi Kurdish leaders are open to including Kurdish troops in a national guard but doubt that the plan can take root in the midst of the current crisis. “The idea is not bad, but how are you going to implement that?” he said.

The Iran-backed Shi’a militias are reported to have committed atrocities against Sunni civilians, which makes this plan at the very least problematicThough it’s commendable that al-Abadi is cleaning up the Iraqi army, the obstacles in the way of its development into an effective fighting force are formidable. Our own Adam Garfinkle has written that Iraq as it was is gone for good. Considering that so many of its soldiers weren’t even there in the first place, it’s no wonder.

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  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    We shouldn’t be there, let the Sunni Jihadists focus all their resources on killing the Shiite Jihadists and vice-a-versa. This is the only strategy that makes sense at the moment, after Obama stupidly abandoned our strategy of using Democracy to drain the swamp of Islamic Culture that is spawning a continuous supply of Jihadists.

    • FriendlyGoat

      Oh, God, J.L. Do you EVER have an original thought which is not “bash Obama”? Has it ever occurred to you that the Bush “Democracy plan” (however well-intended) is failing because of Islam, not because of our presidents?

      • f1b0nacc1

        Rarely do we agree, but here is one place that I believe we do. (note to self: alert the media)
        I honestly believe that Bush intended well (and at the time, I agreed with his argument) in trying to introduce democracy to the region. With hindsight though, this appears to have been a tragic mistake, and if I knew now what I knew then, I wouldn’t have supported it. Islamic societies will not lend itself to democracy, and I fear that in the long run the sad result will be a very literal version of the clash of civilizations.
        With that said, Iraq and Afghanistan did not require garrisons (or nation building) to be successful, had we not adopted the notion of bringing democracy to them. A simple policy of ‘rubble don’t make trouble’ would have done the trick nicely, and wouldn’t have required much in the way of post-war occupation.

        • FriendlyGoat

          I’m glad we can find something to agree on. I’m certainly not a fan of G.W. Bush (or any Republicans) but I have never gotten deep into bashing him (them) for thinking we might be able to turn some places secular if we cleaned out their dictators and/or terrorists and offered them a chance for decent elections. It “seemed” like a good idea, but we have not really seen it work. Tunisia may be a promising exception, but if so, it will be more them doing it themselves than something we tried to engineer specifically.

          • Fred

            I’m with f1b0nacc1 on this one. Maybe he can include me in his media alert. The difference is I knew at the time it was a forlorn hope. From the get-go I believed Bush screwed the pooch by not just wasting Saddam, setting up Saddam lite, and getting the heck out, fully prepared to go back in if our thug needed help. It worked beautifully for half a century during the cold war. When it began to break down, more often than not it was because we abandoned our thugs.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Glad to hear we are all finding some common ground. We won’t need media.

            It’s too bad that dictators seem to still be needed to keep a lid on chaos in some places. I can’t find much to like in the heavy-handedness of Al Sisi of Egypt, for instance, but I think we know that place would be devolving too if no one stood up and said, “We ARE NOT going down the Islamist rabbit hole.” That said, I remember reading in the last couple of months that Egypt has banned thousands of the crazier clerics from preaching in that country’s mosques. We would not like it much if some of our Christians went over an edge and our government decided to start vetting our preachers for us. Of course, I happen to think that the whole of Islam is a falsehood (and there is also the chance that Al Sisi shares that view in his private mind. Hard to say.)

          • Fred

            I certainly agree that having the government vet our preachers would be a bad thing and that we need to be vigilant to prevent it (cf Houston). Still I would make two points. One: Christian preachers are extremely unlikely to preach violent overthrow of the US government or suicide attacks against innocent people. Two: In the event any Christian preachers did, there would be a constitutional problem with suppressing them but not with keeping them and their congregation under very strict surveillance. I would certainly be in favor of that.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Well, I’m not suggesting either that Christian preachers are likely to recommend violence and destabilization of America or that we want our government messing with them. But the story I read about that with Egypt simply caused me to think we may not realize how difficult it is to maintain reasonable order in some places. Al Sisi’s people evidently realize that the preaching of Islam is a bit of a powder keg which can blow up. Soooo, they are authoritarian about it, and we perhaps just didn’t/don’t understand what would happen if no one is “in control”.
            Here again, maybe we can hope a democratic model that works can emerge from Tunisia.

  • sacip

    Well, look on the bright side. At least we got “the leaner” part right. It appears both Iraq AND Syria are as good as gone.

    • Paul West

      I­­­’v­­­­­e s­­­t­­­ar­t­e­­­­d a­­v­­­er­­a­­g­i­­­n­­­g 8­­­­­­­­5 b­­­u­­­c­­­k­­s/h­­­­­o­­­­u­­­r­­l­y s­­­­i­­­n­­c­e i s­­­­­t­­­a­r­t­­­ed t­­­­­o w­­­o­r­­k o­­­v­­e­­r t­­­h­­­­­­e i­­­n­­t­­­e­r­­­n­­e­t s­­i­­­x m­­o­n­­­t­­­­h­s a­­­­­g­­o… M­­­­­­y j­­­o­­­­­b i­­­­s t­­­­o w­­­­o­r­­­­­­­­k a­­­­­­­­t h­­­­­o­m­­e f­­­o­­­­­r f­­­­­e­­­w h­­o­u­­­­r­s d­­­a­­i­l­­y a­­­­n­­­­d d­­­­­o b­­­­a­­­­s­­­­i­­c w­­­o­­r­­k i g­­­­­e­­­­t f­­­r­­­o­­­m t­­­h­­­­i­­­s c­­­­o­­m­­­­p­a­­­n­­­y t­­­­h­­­­­a­­­t i s­­­t­­u­­­m­b­­­l­e­d u­­p­­o­­­n o­­v­­­e­­­r t­­­­h­­­e i­­n­t­­e­­r­­n­e­t… I a­­­­­­m v­­­e­­­r­y h­­a­­­p­­­p­­y t­­­­­­o s­­­­h­­a­­­r­­­e t­­­­­­h­i­s j­­­­­­o­­b w­­­­i­­t­­­h y­­­­o­­­u… I­­­­t’­­­s b­­­e­­s­­­t s­­­i­d­­e j­­o­­­­b e­­­v­­e­­r
      -> RE­A­D H­E­R­E W­H­A­T I D­O <-

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