Jul. 17, 2005

Iraq's Ghost Battalions: Patrick Cockburn:

A Tidal Wave of Corruption
Iraq's Ghost Battalions

By PATRICK COCKBURN

Baghdad.

A tidal wave of corruption may ensure the Iraqi army and police will be too few and too poorly armed to replace American and British forces fighting anti-government insurgents. That could frustrate plans in Washington and London to reduce their forces in Iraq.

The Iraqi armed forces are full of 'ghost battalions' in which officers pocket the pay of soldiers who never existed or have gone home. 'I know of at least one unit which was meant to be 2,200 but the real figure was only 300 men,' said a veteran Iraqi politician and member of parliament, Mahmoud Othman. 'The US talks about 150,000 Iraqis in the security forces but I doubt if there are more than 40,000.'

The army and police are poorly armed despite heavy expenditure. 'The interim government spent $5.2bn (£2.6bn) on the ministry of defence and ministry of the interior during six months but there is little to show for it,' said a senior Iraqi official who did not want his name published.

He cited the case of more than $300m spent on buying 24 military helicopters and other equipment from Poland. When Iraqi experts examined the helicopters they found them to be 28 years old - and their manufacturer recommended that they be scrapped after 25 years. Iraq is now trying to get its money back.

The corruption started under the US-run Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003 when Iraqis, often with little experience, were appointed to senior positions in ministries. The Iraqis did not act alone. 'The Americans were the partners of the Iraqis in all this corruption,' says Dr Othman. "
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