Iraqi leader fires 24 senior officials, finds 50,000 'ghost' troops

Iraqi prime minister sacks 24 top security officials in effort to 'reform and rebuild'

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi dismissed 24 senior Interior Ministry officials Monday in an effort to "reform and rebuild" security institutions in the embattled country, the government leader announced via Twitter.

The dismissals, which Abadi described as retirements, followed his report Sunday that an investigation of the Iraqi armed forces' payroll had turned up 50,000 names of "ghost soldiers," fictitious troops drawing salaries that go to senior officers, Middle East media reported.

Corruption and incompetence in the armed forces have been blamed for massive security failures since a June onslaught by the Islamic State militant group met with little resistance and left at least a third of Iraq's territory under the extremists' control.

Since taking office in September, Abadi has attempted to clean up the police and army to improve their ability to combat the Islamic State push toward Baghdad.

An Islamic State attack Monday from across the border with Syria, targeting a checkpoint at Walid in restive Anbar province, killed at least 15 troops, the Associated Press reported.

Acts of violence and terrorism killed 1,232 Iraqis in November, the United Nations' Assistance Mission for Iraq reported, slightly fewer than in October but still at a pace that reflects the country's vulnerability to the extremists attempting to build a Muslim caliphate across the Iraqi and Syrian territory they occupy.

A statement from Abadi's office on Sunday disclosed the discovery of the fictitious troops on the payroll. It said the 50,000 positions had been eliminated, but unidentified officials were quoted by the Al Jazeera news service as saying the 50,000 were a small proportion of a payroll-padding epidemic by top commanders who consider themselves entitled to the extra pay.

The fired Interior Ministry officials were not identified. Abadi has already made several changes to the security hierarchy in a campaign to weed out the corruption and sectarian discord that flourished under his predecessor, Nouri Maliki.

The United States invested billions of dollars in the training of Iraqi police and soldiers during the eight-year occupation of the country after the ouster of President Saddam Hussein in 2003.

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