In movies like The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, a ghost army can be a decisive advantage for a besieged army. It appears that Iraq has not just a ghost army but one that is 50,000 strong. The “ghost soldiers” were discovered in an investigation as the latest example of corruption in the country where literally billions of dollars in U.S. aid have disappeared without a trace.
Iraq’s prime minister Haidar al-Abadi has promised to crackdown on the ghost soldiers, which is the equivalent to almost four full army divisions that do not actually exist.
However, the Iraqis do not refer to these fictitious soldiers as “ghosts” but rather “fadhaiyin” or “space men” — which would seem even more promising for a low-tech army. Here is the most interesting element. The spacemen are well known and condoned in the army. One officer explained that each officer is “allowed five guards. He’ll keep two, send three home and pocket their salary or an agreed percentage.” Then there is the large group at the brigade level where commanders typically have 40 or more soldiers who stay at home or don’t exist.”
So, after years of complaining about waste and corruption, this practice has been openly occurring as a standard operating procedure. Indeed, it leaves the lasting image of commanders receiving all of those anti-corruption memos and passing along the orders to their nonexistent subordinates while collecting their pay.
It turns out that it takes little to get rid of an army of ghosts, you just have to release them: