Newly-elected Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced on Sunday that his administration has stopped payment on salaries that were being issued to at least 50,000 nonexistent soldiers, previously believed to be among the ranks of the Iraqi army. According to BBC News, the fake names on the Iraqi army’s roster included deserters and soldiers who were killed in action. Abadi administration officials believe that corrupt officers may have been leaving the names on the roster in an effort to steal their salaries.
Under previous Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi army crumbled in the face of ISIS, as four if its fourteen divisions collapsed during June clashes. Haider al-Abadi previously promised that, as prime minister, he would clean up the Iraqi army. Now in office, Abadi has offered his investigation into the fraudulent salary claims as a first step.
The Washington Post noted that officials said that the Iraqi government, which pays $600 per month to its troops, has been wasting at least $380 million per year on the misappropriated payments. “It could be more than triple this number… The people who are responsible for this should be punished. Iraq’s safe has been emptied,” said Hamid al-Mutlaq from the Council of Representatives of Iraq’s defense and security committee.
US taxpayers have already spent over $20 billion dollars in an attempt to strengthen the failing Iraqi military, and, according to Foreign Policy, the Pentagon is planning to request $1.6 billion more from Congress in an effort to build nine new Iraqi army brigades. The Obama administration has also requested $24 million in US taxpayer funds to train and equip Sunni tribal fighters that claim to oppose ISIS. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said that training and equipping Sunni fighters is a slow process because “we do not want to just give weapons randomly.” When ISIS attacked Mosul last June, many Iraqi soldiers deserted and reportedly left US weapons behind for ISIS fighters to seize.
According to analysis by an anonymous US defense official quoted by The Washington Post, the fact that Iraqi troop numbers were falsely inflated may have contributed to the Iraqi army’s failure in the face of ISIS, as generals on the ground may have planned on having more troops than were actually available. Allegedly, some brigades only had half as many troops as were listed on their rosters, possibly giving generals false confidence that their brigades were strong enough to handle tasks better suited for a larger force.