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 problematic. Though 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.