When the militants of Islamic State swept across Iraq last June, they numbered no more than 12,000 and they faced a U.S.-trained, U.S.-equipped Iraqi army that boasted some 200,000 troops.
And yet it was the Iraqi army that collapsed.
What happened? It was more than simply incompetence among Iraqi generals and ethnic tensions among the ranks. The hidden factor that gave Islamic State its victory was Iraq's rampant corruption. The Baghdad government's army had 200,000 troops on paper, but many were “ghost soldiers,” fictional troops whose wages went into their officers' pockets. The unfortunate troops who showed up often lacked equipment and ammunition because their officers had sold it on the black market.