Stars and Stripes, Iraq’s government has spent millions of dollars on “phantom” police officers who left the force or died, but whose names remained on department payrolls while others illegally pocketed their salaries, USA Today reported Friday.

An investigation by the Iraqi Interior Ministry in six provinces found that 15 percent to 20 percent of the names on police payrolls there no longer corresponded to active-duty officers, the paper reported, noting that more than 11,000 names have since been purged nationwide as part of a broad effort to cut graft.

The excess money for salaries sent by the federal government in Baghdad often ended up in the hands of other police officers, said Army Brig. Gen. David Phillips, the top U.S. adviser for police training.

“A lot of those police officers disappeared — either ran away, didn’t come to work, killed, any number of things,” Phillips told USA Today. “There was still pay going out there … unless someone stopped it.”

In recent months, the Interior Ministry has sent officials to provincial police stations, where they refused to pay anyone who couldn’t walk in to collect their salary in cash, the paper wrote.

In Anbar, a Sunni province west of the capital, about a quarter of the names on the police payroll were removed, according to Phillips.

Some police forces have been reluctant to take tougher punitive measures such as firing personnel because they don’t want to put someone “bitter” on the street “who did something he thought was not that wrong,” Phillips told USA Today.

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