Near Mosul, Iraqi Troops Again Flee From ISIS as Soon as Shooting Starts | Rout of Iraqi troops another morale boost for ISIS
Isis fighters parade through Mosul in an Iraqi army vehicle. The city was supposed to have 25,000 defenders but 15,000 were ‘ghost soldiers’.
Iraqi government investigation finds 50,000 ‘ghost soldiers’ on army payroll
Missing soldiers explains rout of Iraqi forces in Mosul by Isis and city’s collapse in face of jihadis’ advance in June, say officials
Iraq’s new government has found 50,000 “ghost soldiers” who received army pay without showing up for work, a practice that accelerated the military’s collapse in the face of Islamic State (Isis) fighters six months ago.
The names were uncovered in an investigation inquiry launched by the prime minister, Haidar al-Abadi, who took office in September, his spokesman, Rafid Jaburi, said.
“Ghost soldiers” were are men on the army payroll who pay their officers a portion of their salaries and in return do not show up for duty, enriching their commanders and hollowing out the military force.
“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,” Jaburi said.
Local officials in Mosul said the city should have been defended from an Isis attack in June by 25,000 soldiers and police, but in reality the number was at best 10,000. Islamic State militants took over the city with barely a fight.
The United States, which has spent billions of dollars trying to build up Iraq’s armed forces before it pulled out in 2011, has sent military advisers back to Iraq to train them to take on the Isis fighters who now control much of the north and west of the country.
Since taking over as premier from Nouri al-Maliki, Abadi has sacked dozens of military officials appointed during Maliki’s eight-year rule and pledged to root out corruption.
On Monday Abadi’s office announced that he had retired 24 senior interior ministry officials and replaced them with new officers under a reform plan to make the security forces “more effective in confronting terrorism”. The finance minister, Hoshiyar Zebari, told Reuters last week there was a need for deep-rooted reform of the security forces to fight corruption and mismanagement. “The military has to be cleaned of all these numbers, figures of ghost soldiers and other mismanagement,” he said.
The top eschelons of the Iraqi army removed. Why would that be to make way for Abbot’s advisers? For security reasons? Nobody can really be sure. Abbott hasn’t a clue. How safe is this deployment that has been accused of having been overpaid?
SAS according to Abbott were waiting for the lawyers to start our war. Further we were to train the Iraqi army to fight not the Sunni tribes or the Iran backed Shiia militias who don’t even want us there. Now it seems we are there to train the most unreliable , corrupt rag bag army from the top down one could imagine. How long will that take? They are so unreliable the Sunni tribes and the Iran backed militias want nothing to do with them either as they can’t be trusted
It appears of the 300,000 only half can be found of those 11,000 were missing in action and 10.000 were known to have been killed. Even the country’s most vaunted Special Ops have 35% unaccounted for. So are we there to aid the Iran backed army or are we there just for Abbotts political ride.
When the northern city of Mosul fell to so-called Islamic State forces in June, the world wondered what had happened to the billions invested by the West in Iraq’s army. But it was what happened a few days later at a place called Camp Speicher that showed the true scale of the problem.
When hundreds of Iraqi officers fled Speicher to save their skins, thousands of terrified recruits left behind decided their best option was to open the gates and then to set out on foot for Baghdad, 180 kilometres to the south.
Leaderless and naive, they walked into the arms of IS forces who trucked them off to their death squads. IS boasted that it had massacred as many as 1700 of the young men, releasing gruesome video of some weeping and others begging to be spared before being gunned down in shallow desert trenches.
Yet in a cruel irony, when IS finally attacked the former US base at Speicher, the handful of officers and men who stayed on – including commanding officer Lieutenant-General Ali Furaji, 44 – fended off their attack.
The collapse of its military leaves Iraq at a crossroads.
Just as the democratic framework left by the US and its coalition partners, including Australia, is driven more by the imperatives of Shiite Islamist political parties, the defence of the country could now fall into the hands of the militias of those same parties, who take guidance and arms from neighbouring Iran and are already comfortable issuing orders at joint command meetings, according to a senior Iraqi intelligence source.
These militias are impatient with the Iraqi Army and with the air strikes by a new US-led coalition, again with Australia along for the ride. They complain the strikes are too casual and infrequent, and seemingly are more about surveillance than about dropping munitions that might repel IS.
Some of Iraq’s Sunni tribes have declared war on IS, but they hesitate to line up with the Iraqi authorities in Baghdad. When Mosul fell, Sunni tribal chief Sheikh Ali Hatem al-Suleiman al-Dulaimi told local reporters the tribes in western Anbar province “consider [former prime minister Nouri al-] Maliki more dangerous than IS”.
If the real battle against IS is to be waged by Shiite militias, how do Washington and other Western capitals finesse the reality that in fighting alongside those militias, they become de facto allies of Tehran, with which they are in bitter conflict on almost every key issue in the region? Is the Australian Defence Force going to war with a disciplined, professional military loyal to its government, or with an unruly, self-willed band of militias more aligned with the near-pariah state next door?
An army for the highest bidder
Analysts in Baghdad and other informed sources, including a recently retired army general who cannot be named for reasons of security, confirm that for many in the officer corps and the ranks, the army is a milch cow, not a fighting force.
During and after the collapse at Mosul, the army lost five of its 15 divisions and ceded huge stores of US-supplied weapons and equipment to IS. By the reckoning of analyst Hisham al-Hashimi, only half of the army’s 300,000 establishment can ever be counted as genuine “boots on the ground”.
Another source who had observed the Iraqi Army at close quarters for some years explained the concept of the military “alien”, a soldier who, even in the midst of a national security crisis such as that now facing Iraq, cuts a deal with his senior officers to split his salary in return for not having to front for duty.
In Anbar, the vast western province that IS is on the verge of capturing, the “alien” problem means the official strength of the army divisions in the fight is 60,000 – but only 20,000 men are actually on the ground.
Soldiers also buy days off duty, paying the equivalent of $US20-$US30 a day to their officers for permission to absent themselves.
Most senior officers pay $US1 million or more to buy their rank – and the opportunities for patronage and corruption that go with it. The retired general told me: “It’s like a market – supply and demand. You have something that hundreds want, so of course they’ll pay.”
Citing well-heeled areas of Baghdad like Mansour and Karrada, another source explained: “Competition for officer positions in wealthy areas is especially fierce. That’s where there are liquor stores, parking lots and many shops – they extort money from all. The operator of a parking lot could pay $US2000-$US5000 a month to have the military direct all vehicles into his lot; and the liquor seller pays just so that he won’t be harassed.”
These commanders-turned-entrepreneurs regularly set revenue targets that had to be met by their subordinates, which resulted in many in the ranks having to buy their own food. In the 50-degree heat of summer some soldiers got only two to four 500ml bottles of drinking water a day.
And the US had a hand in this state of affairs, too. In the early days of the occupation in 2003, the decision was made by US officials that all division commanders would have their own budget to acquire food and other necessities from local private enterprise. The officers soon worked out that highway checkpoints were readymade “toll stations”, at which truckers were forced to pay a levy to pass.
All this explains a litany of local reports of army bases around the country surrendering while besieged by IS, and troops complaining later that their pleas for food, water and ammunition went unanswered. “When’s the last time you heard of IS being surrounded by Iraqi forces and running out of ammunition?” one source quipped.
Retired US general Jim Dubik, who led the US effort to train Iraqi forces in 2007-08 and who is now with a Washington think tank, told Reuters in June: “Their leadership has eroded. If you’re a fighter and you think your side’s going to lose, you don’t fight until the last man. You save yourself.”
But Anthony Cordesman, with the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, takes General Dubik’s training program to task: “The US tried to impose too many of its own approaches to military development on an Iraqi structure, and Iraq lacked the internal incentives, and checks and balances, necessary to make them function once US advisers were gone.
“As in Vietnam and Afghanistan, the US accomplished a great deal. But it tried to do far too much, too quickly with more emphasis on numbers than quality, and it grossly exaggerated unit quality in many cases … Successful force-building takes far longer than the US military was generally willing to admit, and US efforts to transform, rather than improve, existing military cultures and systems have often proved to be counterproductive and a waste of effort.”
The two generals who openly abandoned their troops in Mosul with hardly a shot fired were retired without charge and within days. One of them, Abboud Qanbar, shamelessly toasted the Baghdad establishment as he presided over a lavish wedding for his son at the Hunting Club in suburban Mansour. There are vocal calls for punishment, but none of the derelict officers has been formally charged, though many of Mr Maliki’s hundreds of personal appointments to the officer corps could be sidelined in a review of the military leadership promised by Iraq’s new Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi.
The 2003 decision by Paul Bremer, Washington’s envoy to Iraq, to completely disband the military required that it be rebuilt from the ground up – a “reckless decision that had huge negative impact”, one militia leader told me.
Again and again I was told the training by US and other coalition countries for the new force was inadequate – “it was all too brief, it was not reinforced and the army was deployed for too long doing what essentially was police work – manning checkpoints and the like weakened their morale”.
On the prospects of rebuilding the force, the retired general ruefully asked: “Do you think you can rebuild in two years what previously took 80 years to build? An army has to rise above religion and party policy, but the government wants to work with the militias that agree with its ministers.”
The confidence men
At the Defence Ministry headquarters on the banks of the Tigris River, a visitor is struck more by indolence than a sense of urgency. But chief spokesman Brigadier-General Mohammad al-Askari speaks with confidence – he acknowledged much of the fight was being taken to IS by the militias and tribal fighters, but he insisted too that reports that the capital might soon fall to IS were wildly exaggerated.
“IS does have sleeper cells in Baghdad, but what is their size? If they have tens of people in a city of millions, it’s not the same as the city being surrounded. Baghdad is secure and we have more troops here than we need.”
General Askari argued Iraqi Army units were mounting a serious challenge to the IS rampage across Anbar, a vast desert expanse stretching west from Baghdad to the Jordanian and Syrian borders.
“We control three major bases and we’re slowly expanding our area of operations,” he claimed, despite reports of a more tenuous ebb and flow in the Anbar fight. “We still need more troops and a lot of international cooperation – logistics and air cover.
“But we’re better off than we were – we are on the offensive and things will start to improve.”
At the same time, he acknowledged that “Iraq was saved” in June when leading Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a fatwa urging Iraqis to volunteer to fight, thereby swelling the ranks of the militias more than those of the Iraqi Army.
“Everyone was abandoning the army, morale was in freefall, but the fatwa brought balance, nationalism and a sense of patriotism for the Shiites and Sunnis – our blood is mixed on the battlefield.”
Some battlefield success may bring a glimmer of hope. But in iconic contests, like the defeat in September of the IS siege of Amerli, 180 kilometres north of Baghdad, it was the banners of four militias, not that of the Iraqi Army, that were cheered by locals, and little was made of the US air cover that sealed the town’s relief.
Sheikh Abdul Hamid al-Juburi, described as being in control of all the Sunni tribes in central Salaheddin province, still has reservations. Over a grand tribal lunch, he told me: “The government troops are not up to this fight, they’re standard military fighting gangsters and because they don’t have sufficient numbers they disperse when they feel the heat.”
The sheikh, who has hundreds of his tribesmen fighting in wild clashes with IS across the province, likened the force of IS to water behind a dam, adding hopefully: “When we collapse the dam, there’s a huge gush of water, but then it becomes a small, manageable stream.”
The country has a new prime minister who is promising change and reform. But some Iraqi observers are not holding their breath. “The same players are there as he reshuffles the seats – and IS just carries on, like a professional boxer attacking a bunch of kids,” one said.