(As printed in The Daily Caller.)
Is Iraq moving beyond corruption?
Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi dismissed 24 top Interior Ministry officials on Monday, following a revelation Sunday that the country’s army had been paying salaries to 50,000 non-existent “ghost soldiers.”
Abadi called the huge list of imaginary reservist soldiers “the most serious instance of corruption anywhere in the security apparatus,” according to Al-Jazeera Arabic.
David Newton, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and a scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that “from 2003 on, [the U.S.] completely overturned the existing system in Iraq, and a lot had to be built from scratch.” Comparing the rise of formerly suppressed Shiites in Iraq’s military to his own Boston Irish ancestors, Newton said, “after a while, people realize they’re robbing from themselves — they realize that corruption has a very high cost to the country.”
The 50,000 falsified salaries are called “fadhaiyun” in Iraqi military slang, meaning “spacemen.” Al-Arabiya’s English edition estimates that these “spacemen” cost Iraq at least $360 million a year.
The two back-to-back announcements came just weeks after the news that Abadi fired 26 Army commanders in an initial attempt to root out corruption in Iraq’s military. The country’s armed forces, overseen by the Interior Ministry, have undergone numerous humiliations this year. During ISIS’s advance to control territory in Iraq’s north and west this summer, many army officers were seen stripping off their uniforms and running away from Islamic State forces. (RELATED: Iraqi Leaders Announce Plan To Recapture Mosul From ISIS)
Dry and succinct Iraqi government press statements emphasized that the decision improved its “effectiveness in confronting terrorism.”
Abadi has been Prime Minister since September, replacing Nouri al-Maliki, who resigned Iraq’s top government job due to a lack of trust in his leadership against the ISIS threat. In October he appointed Mohammed al-Ghabban to lead the Interior Ministry, a militia-linked Shiite whose appointment The Washington Post warned “opens [the] door to militia and Iranian influence.”
But Newton remained optimistic about Abadi’s ability to organize a cohesive Iraqi military to fight ISIS. “I firmly believe there is a sense of nation in this country, and that they’ll be willing to save Iraq,” he told TheDCNF. “I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s possible.”
Egypt-based news site Youm7.com reported that the Interior Ministry had already found replacements for the ousted officials by the time the firings were announced.
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