Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said Sunday an investigation had found a list of “ghost soldiers” in the Iraqi military and vowed to widen a crackdown on graft in the country.
“In terms of reforms in the military establishment, Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi uncovered the presence of 50,000 fictitious named in four military units,” a statement from Abadi’s office said.
Abadi also denied “the presence of foreign forces on [Iraqi] territory except for military training purposes.”
A parliament statement said Abadi scrapped the 50,000 jobs, equivalent to almost four full army divisions, reported AFP.
“Over the past few weeks, the PM has been cracking down to expose the ghost soldiers and get to the root of the problem,” Abadi’s spokesman Rafid Jaboori said.
He said that the probe started with a thorough headcount during the latest salary payment process.
Soldiers confirmed to AFP that salaries were paid only recently after a two-month delay about which they were given no explanation.
“There are two kinds of ‘fadhaiyin,’” one experienced officer in the security forces said, using a word which, literally translated, means “space men,” and refers to the fictitious soldiers crowding the payroll.
“The first kind: each officer is allowed, for example, five guards. He’ll keep two, send three home and pocket their salary or an agreed percentage,” he told AFP.
“Then the second and bigger group is at the brigade level. A brigade commander usually has 30, 40 or more soldiers who stay at home or don’t exist,” the officer said.
“The problem is that he too, to keep his job as a brigade commander, has to bribe his own hierarchical superiors with huge amounts of money,” he said.
The officer explained that, for those reasons, the thousands of soldiers who defected or were killed this year across Iraq were rarely declared as such.
The United States, which occupied the country for eight years, has spent billions of dollars training and equipping Iraq’s military.
Yet the army collapsed when fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group launched a sweeping offensive in June.
Since taking office in September, Abadi has sacked or retired several top military commanders, and Sunday’s announcement suggests he wants to tackle the graft and patronage that prevailed under his predecessor Nuri al-Maliki, reported AFP.
“Haidar al-Abadi is setting integrity, efficiency and courage as the criteria to appoint a new military leadership,” Jaboori said.
“This weeding out process will extend beyond the military to all state institutions,” he said.