Friday, July 15, 2005


The Iraqi "ghost army"

Patrick Cockburn of the Independent shines a little light on the Iraqification of the military coalition—
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.1

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."

But for the soldiers actually on duty, weapons are hard to come by—

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.

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. The results of the failure to buy effective arms are visible at every Iraqi police or army checkpoint. The weapons on display are often ageing Kalashnikovs. The supposedly elite police commandos drive about in elderly pick-ups with no armour. The ministry of the interior was recently unable to provide a presidential guard with 50 pistols.

But here's the kicker—

The Iraqi government hoped it would be able to obtain weapons free from the US but that has turned out to be a frustrating process. An official said: "The Americans don't trust our soldiers or policemen. They say the arms might fall into the hands of insurgents. But I tell them the insurgents already have these kind of weapons so why should they want some more?"

So the U.S. wants the Iraqis to take over patrol duties but doesn't want to arm them? Splendid.

7/16/05  10:00 am

As for the Iraqi arms-procurement scandal, Hannah Allam of Knight Ridder has a more detailed view—

The Iraqi Defense Ministry has squandered more than $300 million buying faulty and outdated military equipment in what appears to be a massive web of corruption that flourished under American-appointed supervisors for a year or longer, U.S. and Iraqi military officials said this week.

Vendors are suspected of vastly overcharging for substandard equipment, including helicopters, machine guns and armored vehicles, and kicking back money to Iraqi Defense Ministry buyers.

The defective equipment has jeopardized the lives of Iraq's embattled security forces and exposed a startling lack of oversight for one of the country's most crucial rebuilding projects.

Officials of Iraq's recently elected government have fired the main suspects in the scandal, and several former defense overseers are under investigation for possible criminal charges, Iraqi Defense Minister Saadoun al-Duleimi said in an interview this week.

Al-Duleimi said investigators are looking at more than 40 questionable contracts that allegedly sent a huge chunk of the ministry's annual budget into the pockets of senior Iraqi defense officials and their foreign business partners.

Other Iraqis familiar with the cases said there may be more fraudulent contracts involving many more millions of dollars.

Investigators are looking at purchases dating back to the June 28, 2004, transfer of sovereignty from American administrator L. Paul Bremer III to the caretaker government of U.S.-backed Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. Many Iraqi administrators hired under Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority kept their jobs after the handover of the ministry, but after that the U.S. military no longer had the final say in awarding contracts.

However, Americans still ran the show behind the scenes, said several Iraqi bureaucrats involved with the ministry at the time. It's implausible to them that U.S. officials, who held daily briefings with Iraqi defense chiefs, didn't catch wind of the alleged wrongdoing.

"It seems hard to understand to an outsider that this stuff could go on under our noses and Americans wouldn't know anything about it. But, clearly, we didn't know everything," said a U.S. military official familiar with the events. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss an open investigation.

Of course we must keep some perspective on this. In March the Pentagon was attempting to hide an audit of Halliburton that found $108 million in overcharges, which came atop a previous determination of $61 million in overcharges. And as Suzanne Goldberg wrote for the Guardian, "Critics of Halliburton are convinced this represents just a fraction of the overcharges." Whatever the true number, the figure we know of Halliburton overcharges is already well over half of what the Iraqis are being accused of mispending on weapons.

Why would anyone think the Pentagon had a hand in this?

Of course the ultimate oversight responsibility falls upon the Republican Congress. But they're going to be too busy conducting the day-to-day affairs of the Palestinian Authority to be of much use.

Related post
Halliburton losing its ass—Oh sorry, that was our ass (11/27/04)
U.S. Congress to run Palestinian Authority (6/13/05)


1 Not in the case of the British, and probably not for the Americans. More on that later. [back]

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