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An army of 50,000 phantoms. And counting. Maybe it's three times that. Not a sci-fi plot, but a bought-and-paid-for false army that doesn’t exist and maybe never existed. That’s at least four full divisions, if it's "only" 50,000 phantom troops. It’s likely a much greater misrepresentation that could be three times that number.

Iraqi Ghost Soldiers

The Bush administration through the Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz war managers happily gave their Iraqi regime the money to recruit, train, equip, deploy, and continuously maintain and make payroll for troops that, Iraq declared Sunday, don't exist. While Iraq's new prime minister, Haidar al-Abadi, challenges the statement that they NEVER existed, he says follow-up investigations are expected to uncover “more and more.”

But then, al-Abadi also denies there is any “presence of foreign forces on [Iraqi] territory except for military training purposes.”

No foreign troops? What happened to ISIL/ISIS? Those Islamic State insurrectionists certainly were not driven out by the 50,000 Iraqi soldiers that don’t exist.

And 50,000?

“It could be more than triple this number,” said Hamid al-Mutlaq, a member of the Iraqi Parliament’s Defense and Security Committee. He points out that more, and more thorough, on-the-ground investigations are planned.

One thing is immediately clear: the American taxpayer has, for years, been putting stunning amounts of cash into the pockets of the corrupt perpetrators of a fantasy.

The United States spent more than $20 billion on the Iraqi Force from the 2003 invasion until U.S. troops withdrew at the end of 2011. It could be much more, since the Bush administration kept the costs of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan off the books.

The Pentagon is currently requesting $1.2 billion to train and equip the Iraqi military (the U.S. renamed it “security forces”) in 2015. It's deju vu all over again, and that's not all. The Pentagon also wants $24 million to train and equip "tribal fighters" and $354 million for Kurdish forces as part of its strategy to “turn the tide” against ISIL/ISIS.

So, another $1.78 billion in 2015 alone, to do something that we paid to do already; i.e., train soldiers in Iraq, after we fired all the soldiers it used to have. Americans paid at least $20 billion to do that, and on Sunday, we learned that an unknown but large part of it was paid to and for people who didn’t get trained because they were never there or were trained to no purpose because they cannot be found.

The exact amount lost to already pursuing the same goal remains unknown. But we can formulate the questions. Of the $20 billion the U.S. has paid so far:

  • What portion was spent on nonexistent phantom soldiers?
  • What was paid to unnamed entities or individuals in the military-industrial complex for gear, food, and other necessities to equip phantom soldiers?
  • With the money received, what was never bought, what was bought but went undelivered, and how much was delivered to thieves?

We need an accurate accounting of all that, but first we must know the true negative numbers, just how many more phantoms beyond “the list” of 50,000 carried on the books. Because what didn’t go to Iraqi troops went somewhere. So far, it's unknown how much U.S. money and materiel went directly into the hands of ISIL/ISIS through the black market. While it's impossible to tally all of it, we can start with the number disclosed Sunday. Or we can surmise the true number is closer to the 150,000 that al-Mutlaq expects.

And now you know why the Iraqi military that we trained cannot stop ISIL/ISIS. It's because the four divisions said to have run away in the face of advances by Islamic State forces are the same number as the nonexistent four divisions of the Iraqi military's supposed total which was being misrepresented as 14 divisions. So the four divisions that ran perhaps didn't run—if they never existed to take the field when ISIL/ISIS arrived. Either way, Iraq says they don't exist now.

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As bad as it appears on the surface, it’s far worse when you look farther than mainstream media has done so far. Using simple math, start with the 14 divisions we paid for. If four were phantoms, and another four ran away, than Iraq's security forces/army of 14 divisions is really only six divisions. That’s less than half the size we've been told. And if the number of phantom soldiers is not 50,000, but 150,000, as al-Mutlaq suspects? That’s the equivalent of 12 divisions that don’t exist. Meaning the Iraqi military has barely enough troops to fill out two divisions of the supposed 14, making it 1/7 the size paid for.

The U.S. paid for 14 Iraqi military divisions, each with 12,500 troops. It turns out that four of those divisions are phantoms that take money for corrupt superiors, but do not exist. Now you know why ISIL/ISIS thinks it can take over.

Whatever the actual number, it’s far less than had been represented before Sunday. And suddenly it makes sense why ISIL/ISIS believes it can take over.

A critical question is whether the entire force structure is like a bad Swiss cheese that’s more holes than cheese, or whether entire divisions are phantoms. The latter possibility brings to mind the fake army commanded by General George Patton in England to mislead the Germans about where the D-Day landings would take place. Except this time it’s not strategic diversion. It’s delusion engineered for financial fraud on a scale akin to the GDP of a small nation, and it has the U.S. on the brink of being drawn back in to a quagmire.

One experienced officer in the Iraqi security forces said, “There are two kinds of ‘fadhaiyin.’” He’s using a word that, literally translated, means “space men,” and refers to the fictitious soldiers on the payroll.

He explained, “The first kind: each officer is allowed, for example, five guards. He’ll keep two, send three home and pocket their salary or an agreed percentage.”

“Then the second and bigger group is at the brigade level. A brigade commander usually has 30, 40 or more soldiers who stay at home or don’t exist,” the officer said.

“The problem is that he too, to keep his job as a brigade commander, has to bribe his own hierarchical superiors with huge amounts of money,” he said.

The officer explained that, for those reasons, the thousands of soldiers who defected or were killed this year in confrontations with ISIL/ISIS across Iraq were rarely declared to be dead or gone, so their pay could be pocketed by corrupt superiors.

So the U.S., which occupied the country for eight years and spent that $20 billion training and equipping Iraq’s military? At best, we bought a military that is 1/3 smaller than what we paid for, and what was represented as being in place, and at worse, it is only 1/7 the represented size. And that should raise questions whether all the stolen money stayed in Iraq.


Al-Abadi, the Iraq’s Prime Minister since September, said in his initial revelation on Sunday that an investigation had found "a list" of “ghost soldiers” in the Iraqi military. "A list" certainly implies that the Iraqi military establishment has known at high levels that their supposed force structure is a fraud. Al-Abadi vowed to widen what he’s started—a crackdown on graft in his country, which has been so rampant that it was essentially the norm under the Bush-installed post-invasion government and al-Abadi's predecessor, Nuri al-Maliki.

An Iraqi Parliament statement said al-Abadi has now scrapped the 50,000 phantom’s jobs.

Meanwhile, there are no indications of anyone doing anything to enable America's taxpayers to get our stolen money back.

The Washington Post estimated that with entry-level soldiers in the Iraqi military drawing salaries of about $600 a month, the practice of “ghost soldiers” is likely to be costing Iraq at least $380 million a year—though officials admit that’s probably only a fraction of the true expense. And the U.S. is there to play Daddy Warbucks, whatever the actual amount.

Al-Mutlaq adds, “The people who are responsible for this should be punished. Iraq’s safe has been emptied.”


Really? Seems like somebody can't be broke with all the American dollars that have been paid to phantoms and otherwise disappeared in Iraq.

Larry Wines