With entry-level soldiers in Iraq drawing salaries of about $600 a month, the practice of “ghost soldiers” is likely costing Iraq at least $380 million a year — though officials say that’s probably only a fraction of the true expense.

“It could be more than triple this number,” said Hamid al-Mutlaq, a member of the parliamentary defense and security committee, pointing out that more thorough on-the-ground investigations are planned. “The people who are responsible for this should be punished. Iraq’s safe has been emptied.”

The corrupt practice is often perpetrated by officers who pretend to have more soldiers on their books in order to pocket their salaries, experts say.

Abadi’s announcement was met with applause in parliament. He said the perpetrators would be tracked down eventually, but his priority is to end the practice as soon as possible.