The ‘Astronaut’ Problem: Iraqi Soldiers Who Pay Money To Officers So They Don’t Fight
The Iraqi army is suffering badly from what locals describe as the “astronaut phenomenon”. That is, soldiers who pay money to superior officers so they can leave the world of the military and stay out of danger, far from the battle field. This means that sometimes when a general sends a battalion to fight, only half the soldiers are there. And recently, with attacks by extremists, this phenomenon has been getting worse.
Last week a confidential meeting was hosted by Iraq’s Parliamentary committee on security and defence and one of the guests was Rasheed Flaih, the Lieutenant General who is in charge of the Iraqi army’s operations in the province of Anbar.
At the September 27 meeting the military men and politicians discussed the ever-increasing absence of soldiers from their units in the province.
“Participants in the meeting discussed the number of different sieges of the Iraqi army in the Anbar area and how many soldiers were being killed by members of the terrorist organisation, the Islamic State,” one of those who attended the meeting told NIQASH on condition of anonymity.
“Also discussed was the fact that there had been an increase in the number of Iraqi soldiers who were leaving areas where they could expect to see action – such as the provinces Anbar, Salahaddin and Diyala. This means that there are fewer than expected soldiers on the battlefields,” the source said.
One of the incidents mentioned was from earlier in September, when fighters from the Sunni Muslim extremist group, the Islamic State, or IS, had managed to besiege an Iraqi army base and after cutting off their supply lines, launched an assault on the base. Although reports vary, it seems that most of the thousand or soldiers at the base may have been captured or killed. Only around 200 managed to escape.