The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a.k.a ISIS, is a jihadist militant group that is currently in control of a vast area from Iraq and Syria. The troubles this terrorist organization causes are not contained in the Middle East, but also extend to Europe and the Americas as well. The on-going European Migration Crisis was due to this organization’s doing, as they displaced millions of refugees from their original home. Worldwide terrorist attacks, especially those in France and United States, were claimed by ISIS.
An ordinary terrorist group will only last for so long without sufficient funding and powerful supporters. It has been about ten years since the organization came into prominence and attacked nations with the guise of extremist Islamic belief. In 2016, ISIS has claimed regions as far as North Africa and South Asia.
One simply asks, “Where does this organization get its funds from?” and more importantly, “Who are their supporters?”
ISIS works as a proper country, with a war economy to sustain its existence. Believe it or not, taking down a terrorist group is more complicated than it seems. International laws and each nation’s interests come into consideration and halt their moves to squash this group. World leaders, such as the United States and the European Union, cannot just make a quick move, since they are to attack international territories. Moreover, it is also speculated that, for their own reasons, some nations are actually funding the group.
As a result? ISIS is now the richest jihadist group on Earth, with a net worth of over $2 billion.
Revenues from Artifacts, Heroin and Oil
After ISIS captured the Iraq and Syria oil fields, this group is reported to make about $3 million daily, from proceeds of petroleum sales. It controls over 300 oil wells in Iraq alone and produces around 50,000 barrels a day. These are sold to Turkey and nearby nations.
We would normally say that delivering large trucks of oil can be easily caught by authorities, yet this is not the case here. Hidden smuggling roads are inherited and taken care of for generations. These roads increased in numbers and were improved, especially in the years when Iraq faced economics sanctions. It also does not help that bystanders turn a blind eye to this, due to fear and greed. They are paid to ignore the oil carrying trucks when they pass these roads. In their defense, they cannot say “no” without risking getting killed.
Another substantial source of ISIS income comes from heroin sales from Afghanistan. ISIS does not control a major part of the country, but the route passes through Iraq and that’s where their trafficking commences. The terrorist group earns as much as $1 billion annually from this activity.
Historical artifacts are also looted by ISIS and sold for millions of dollars. Iraq gets the hardest hits, since the group is controlling a third of its historical sites. Tablets, writings and other historical remnants were sold to Turkey and Jordan for millions of dollars. Over 28 historical buildings have already been destroyed, as a result of the group’s cultural cleansing campaign.
Moreover, ISIS collects unconscionable amount of taxes from the areas it has under control. Government employees who work in these locations are forced to give half of their actual salaries to the group. Christians and foreigners also have to pay taxes, otherwise risking to have their business blown up by the group. Lastly, ISIS regularly robs banks and extorts additional money from business establishments.
Donations from Gulf Nations
Things are rather speculative at this point, because of the lack of concrete proof. Shockingly, oil-rich nations, like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar are reportedly financing ISIS, at least according to the United States and Iraq. This money is not directly given to them, but through donations using the disguise of charitable contributions. Unfortunately, these can be hard to track, because of the use of aliases in mainstream social media sites. This can be attributed to the 2013 Syrian War, when the Royal families of these Gulf Nations financed rebel groups, including ISIS. It is unknown if they stopped sending donations now that ISIS is internationally recognized as a terrorist group.
While Saudi Arabia proclaimed the group as their enemy, private personalities are still allegedly giving funding to the organization. Kuwait and Qatar’s lax banking systems are taken advantage of, since they do not raise warnings whenever funds are transferred for Islamic terrors. Kuwait’s political structure made it hard for the state to curb political donors having ties with groups connected to ISIS. Qatar, on the other hand, is accused of indirectly supporting ISIS as a part of its state terrorism. Changing our perspective, the said war on resources carried by regional powers, including some G20 countries, also paints a bleak picture. Iraq and Syria are oil-rich countries, hence, a possible situation exists that ISIS is merely a front for other nations to actually monopolize oil revenues in these regions.
What needs to be done to stop ISIS?
Perhaps the United States cannot stop ISIS by mere force alone. After all, thousands of innocent people die with every seize made in the Middle East. The country has already spent $1.3 trillion to send thousands of troops, just to stop this war. However, the end is not yet in sight. Stopping a body that works like a country is too costly at this point.
Halting the income generating resources for ISIS is a possible solution, but that can only be done by airstrikes and direct assault on land. The former is feasible, but it will also hurt the economy of the occupied area, once the war is over. The second method is more possible, but it takes a longer time to be done. According to Graham Allison from Douglas Dillon Professor of Government and Director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, the United States needs to realize that it will take years before successfully destroying ISIS at all. If this country and its allies really want to end this decade long war, long-term strategies must be formed. Local alliances are needed, since this superpower nation sorely lacks manpower to face this highly organized jihadist group on land.
Lastly, they could entrust this to an invisible hand and let the war end by itself. The Middle East is not a stranger to these conflicts, because it is an oil rich region. Arab forces will attack ISIS sooner or later, but there is also a possibility that they will be absorbed by the organization. The war will end either way, and, unfortunately, chances are another one will spring in the future.