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Not Fighting ISIS: How Iraq's 50,000 'Ghost Soldiers' Run Their Scam
The culture of tribal patronage is both why things work and why things don't work in the Arab world. Of course, this was US taxpayers' money. Alexander Smith writes for NBC:
BAGHDAD — As a paid member of the Iraqi army, Mazin should be helping his country fight ISIS. Instead, the father-of-three is battling traffic as a taxi driver in Baghdad.
Mazin is one of the 50,000 "ghost soldiers" who pay a portion of their monthly military salary to superior officers in exchange for not having to turn up for duty. Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi has vowed to put an end to the scam — which has weakened his U.S.-trained army in the face of an ISIS insurgency.
"The reason behind doing this is that I have a family I need to take care of and two kids in school," Mazin, 38, told NBC News. "Besides, I have to pay for rent and other expenses. I found that this is the only way to earn more money, besides securing my future when I retire."
The U.S. spent billions of dollars on attempting to bolster Iraq's military before officially pulling out of the country in 2011. It was forced to send advisers back there this year after ISIS extremists overran huge areas of Iraq and neighboring Syria.
The prevalence of "ghost soldiers" — or "spacemen soldiers," as they are sometimes known within the ranks — was revealed by Abadi's spokesman earlier this month. The practice is considered to be one of the key reason Iraq's U.S.-trained military has proven ineffective in the face of ISIS, particularly in the city of Mosul where the militants are in control.
"Those 50,000 soldiers were revealed after an intense search through military documents and there will be a field search in order to put an end to this phenomenon and any other form of corruption," Abadi's spokesman Rafid Jaburi pledged.
That could prove difficult, given how long the scams have been going on — and how deeply ingrained the practice is.
"Most of those ghost elements of the Ministry of Interior are sons, relatives, guards of senior officers," a Baghdad police captain said.
Mazin said he struck a deal with a superior officer in 2009 to fork over half his monthly earnings — 1,100,000 Iraqi dinars, equivalent to about $950.
"The officer used to call me every month to receive my salary and give him his share," he said. "He used to call me whenever we needed, for example, to renew our identification cards."
We might as well have made a big bonfire in the middle of the country and burned a trillion dollars for all the good it's done us.