A bizarre discovery of so-called “ghost soldiers” in the Middle East has revealed that 50,000 people who don’t actually exist were on the payroll. The ghost soldiers were found in Iraq, reports Al Jazeera. The discovery was announced by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
The massive corruption case comes at an especially difficult time as the Middle East remains in a state of turmoil and chaos with the ongoing threat of ISIS and various regional conflicts. Iraq is also one of the most important allies to the U.S. in the Middle East, and American leaders have repeatedly looked to Iraqi leaders to quell rising violence wrought by ISIS in the region.
The roll of 50,000 fake names was uncovered during a routine salary processing, according to Al Jazeera.
The practice of milking the system by using fake soldiers is not an anomaly in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq. There is even a word for it: fadhaiyin, or space men. According to people in the Middle East familiar with the practice, an army commander typically has 30-40 soldiers that appear to be under their command but who don’t exist or who are at home and not working.
UPI reported that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi made the admission about the ghost soldiers in a speech to parliament. The names are on the payroll, they just don’t exist. Sometimes ghost soldiers are on call in case of inspections. The typical arrangement among commanders and those ghost soldiers who are actually at home is that the salary is split in a mutual agreement.
“The salary of a ghost soldier is around 1 million dinars a month [about $800], and about $400 goes into the pockets of the officers,” Arkan Hussein, an accountant for a military base south of Baghdad, told Al-Monitor. “If an officer has at least 10 of these ghosts, he would get about $5,000 per month, not to mention other officers who hide dozens of ghost soldiers, in addition to other salaries and privileges that the leaders benefit from.”
The 50,000 Middle East ghost soldiers that were recently uncovered is almost equivalent to four army divisions. The Iraqi military is already notorious for corruption, and more ghost soldiers are expected to be found. The Iraqi military has also been tagged for a $1.2 billion piece of U.S. aid aimed at bolstering armies in the Middle East, and received $20 billion in military training between 2003 and 2011.