Forces: The Phantom Soldiers of Iraq


April 3,2008: Iraqi security forces have had to be completely rebuilt over the last five years. In 2005, the commanders of the police and military were selected mainly for their loyalty to Saddam Hussein. Most of these men were Sunni Arabs, a hated minority in Iraq. The new forces are officered mainly from the majority Kurdish and Shia Arab communities. The troops have been trained to a higher standard, and irregular units that specialized in terrorism for Saddam, are gone. But so are many of the new troops, as part of a lucrative scam that enriches corrupt officers of the new army and police.

The Iraqi Provincial Police have 275,000 people on the payroll, with 155,000 trained and about 200,000 available for duty. Many of those on the payroll do not exist, and their commanders pocket the pay for these phantom cops. This is a common scam, is thousands of years old, and was believed to have been invented long ago by some official in this area.

The National Police have 32,000 on the payroll, and 25-30,000 on the job. Again, the phantom problem. The Border Police has about 39,000 on the payroll, with 30-35,000 available for duty. All the police are controlled by the Interior Ministry.

The armed forces (Ministry of Defense) have 181,000 troops, 89 percent in the army, and most of the rest in support units for the army.

A separate Counter-Terrorism Bureau has a Special Operations Command with about 3,000 fairly elite troops on duty.

Thus there are about half a million soldiers and police on the payroll, and about 400,000 people you can actually put in the street with a gun. The army has 123 combat battalions in action, with another 37 battalions being trained.

There are two other armed organizations; the Facilities Protection Service (FPS), and the Sunni Arab volunteers. The 100,000 strong FPS mainly guards the oil fields down south, and has been largely taken over by Shia political organizations (the Badr and Sadr groups). This made sense at the time, because the Badr and Sadr militias had lots of guys with guns, and roots in the community. But now the government is trying to disarm the militias, and they are finding themselves fighting people on the government payroll (the FPS). This may eventually be a similar problem with the 70,000 Sunni Arab volunteers.

U.S. troops report that their Iraqi counterparts are much more dependable, and competent than they were a year or two ago. Most American soldiers in Iraq are on their second or third tour. Soldiers get about a year stateside before returning, so they notice the differences from their last visit, and 2008 is, to most of them, a major improvement over 2005 and 2006.

Despite efforts to clean things up, the Iraqis still have a lot of problems with corruption. Officials in the Ministry (MoD) of Defense seem to get greedier the farther up the food chain they are. Troops complain constantly of MoD officials stealing money for spare parts, fuel, and even ammunition. And a lot of the ammo they do get is ancient junk bought from the Chinese or Russians. These complaints are witnessed, and sent up the U.S. chain of command, by the American training teams assigned to all Iraqi battalions, brigades and divisions. The Iraqi troops have learned that their best hope of getting some help is to complain to their American advisors, and make the complaint seem credible. All these Iraqi corruption complaints to U.S. Army advisors is having some impact. The U.S. Department of Defense is putting pressure on Iraqi MoD officials, and getting U.S. media to do stories on the corruption problem.

Most Iraqi troops want to pacify their country. While many of them are just happy to be employed, those from unruly parts of the country (central Iraq) are eager to shut down the militias, criminal gangs and terrorists cells so their families will be safe, and they'll have something to go home to. Currently, most of the Iraqi army is assigned to central and northern (below the Kurdish controlled areas in the far north) Iraq, although recently over 20,000 cops and soldiers were sent into the southern city of Basra to shut down Shia militias. These troops have done well.




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