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Army Collapse - Ghost Soldiers

Iraqi ArmyWhen the United States pulled its forces out of Iraq in 2011, it came with an important caveat: to prevent the countrys collapse, Iraqi forces had to first be trained to maintain stability in the region. It was a goal the US invested billions in, and at its post-invasion peak, the Iraqi Army numbered nearly 280,000 fighters. Since, that number decreased dramatically. While Iraqs Foreign Ministry of Defense claimed it employed 141,000 active-duty soldiers as of April 2015, some estimates suggest the true tally may be as low as 50,000.

By 2014 the Iraqi army suffered from unhappiness among soldiers as a result of the underpayment or nonpayment of wages for months, particularly in the north and west. Here the army suffered from declining morale and desertions in the early months of 2014. This came as it battled the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which had seized control of Fallujah and Ramadi at the beginning of 2014. The Army made no gains against a foe that was well armed and highly motivated.

Desertion rates depended on whether units were deployed outside their home areas or were operating against insurgents of their own religious or ethnic background. Desertions were reported to be particularly high among Sunni soldiers from Sunni-dominated central and northern Iraq. There were significant loyalty issues in predominantly Sunni Arab units commanded by Shi'ite officers, following the purges of Sunni officers over the previous three years under the Maliki government. The Iraqi army in the north and west also suffered from low morale among Shi'ite soldiers from the south of the country, who had neither a regional nor communal affinity with the populations they were defending. Over 90 percent of the Iraqi Army is composed of Shi'ites.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadis office announced on 30 November 2014 that an investigation had revealed the existence of 50,000 ghost soldiers. It was not immediately clear which agencies this headcount represented - the 170,000-200,000 strong Army, or the more than 450,000 nominal headcount at the Ministry of Interior, but reports suggest the 50,000 ghosts were from the Army alone.

The presence of numerous ghosts is suspected in all state facilities, and not only in the military institution. The estimated 400,000-strong security forces apparatus built up with US assistance has been estimated to have shrunk down to as few as 85,000 active troops following the disintegration of several divisions after the Islamic State militant group captured Mosul.

Ghost soldiers, literally translated from Arabic as space men, are soldiers listed on the payroll of Iraqs security forces, but do not actually exist. Officers and even the commanders of entire brigades have been suspected of listing more men under their command than really exist. They do so by firing soldiers and not taking them off the payroll, splitting salaries, pocketing half and giving the rest to men who do not show up to work, and even listing soldiers who have defected or been killed.

The prime minister revealed the existence of 50,000 fictitious names in the countrys military, a statement from Abadis office noted after a regular session of the countrys parliament. The statement noted that the prime minister had already scrapped the phantom jobs, equivalent to nearly four army divisions. Over the past few weeks, the PM has been cracking down to expose the ghost soldiers and get to the root of the problem, Abadis spokesman Rafid Jaboori said.

Mohammed Othman al-Khalidi, former lawmaker and leader of the Mutahidoun political bloc in Iraqs parliament, told al-Monitor that these ghost employees were one of the reasons behind the shocking collapse of the Iraqi army before the Islamic State in Mosul this past June. Khalidi estimated that up to 30 percent of Iraqs army were actually ghosts, noting that this problem exists at all levels of government, not just in the military. Explaining the deep roots of the problem of ghost personnel, Qasim Mozan noted that it existed in Iraq to some extent even before 2003, while Saddam Hussein was still in power.

One Iraqi lawmaker, Kameran Bajelan, told VOA's Kurdish service that the number of ghost soldiers "is much higher than the announced" figure.

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Page last modified: 20-01-2016 18:22:19 ZULU