The Army That Wasn’t There

When Mosul fell to ISIS in June, lots of theories were put forward about why the Iraqi Army folded so easily despite vastly outnumbering and outgunning its enemies. Lack of training and combat experience was often cited, and with good reason; the decision to basically scrap the existing Iraqi Army and start over from scratch after the Iraq War was pretty dumb. Yours truly suggested that it was about a lack of any sense of “Iraqi nationhood” that would cause the mostly-Sunni population of Mosul to support the mostly-Shiʿa army, that would encourage the Sunnis who were in the army to fight and die in the name of a government in Baghdad that was openly hostile to Iraqi Sunnis, and that would motivate the Shiʿis in the army to fight and die defending a Sunni city. I don’t mean to suggest that the centuries-old Islamic schism is actively motivating the behavior of Iraqis today, but simply that these two groups have cohered (and been manipulated, over time) into different “tribes” (for lack of a better word; and yes I realize there are actual tribes involved here) and that there’s been no effort to create a countervailing sense of Iraqi-ness that would unite them. In fact the lingering resentments of the post-war Iraqi civil war and the mismanagement of the Maliki government served to drive Iraqis apart, not together.

One thing I’m not sure anybody really considered was the possibility that the Iraqi Army fell apart because, well, there wasn’t really an Iraqi Army to begin with. And yet…

An investigation into corruption in the Iraqi army has revealed that there were 50,000 false names on its payroll.

Known in the military as “ghost soldiers”, they either did not exist or no longer reported for duty, however their salaries were still paid.

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.

I don’t see why this would be so. Ghost armies have been empirically shown to be highly effective fighting forces:

Apparently the salaries that were being paid to Iraq’s supernatural special forces were going into the pockets of their would-be officers, either because the ghost soldiers really never existed or because real ghost soldiers don’t really have any use for money. Frankly we could go either way on that one.

If you’re wondering, “say, did America find a way to waste billions of dollars paying soldiers who didn’t exist?” then I’m ashamed proud to say, you bet your ass we, er, did:

Apparently no greater waste was incurred than in the $20 bn spent to build a new Iraqi Army. Al-Abadi said that the 50,000 ‘ghost’ soldiers were discovered with just a superficial inquiry, and that were a more thorough inspection to be done, it would find “wonders and marvels.” He lamented that grunts are fighting and dying, while officers were scooping up the military budget. Al-Abadi is said to have made a large number of high ranking officers resign over the scandal.

Seriously, Juan Cole is spitting hot fire in that piece and you should go read it. The thing is, if it only took a “superficial inquiry” to find fifty goddamn thousand fake soldiers, how the hell have these officers been getting away with this scheme the whole time? Isn’t there plenty of reason to believe that the upper echelons of the Maliki government must have known this was going on and either turned a blind eye or lined their own pockets with that money? Yet Maliki is now a freaking Vice President (one of three) instead of being under investigation.

"Hey, don't look at me! I thought our army was using invisibility cloaks!"
“Hey, don’t look at me! I thought our soldiers were wearing invisibility cloaks!”

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