Information published recently by The Independent has revealed that the ISIS terrorist group operating in Iraq and Syria receive substantial funds through a “sophisticated money laundering scheme”. These funds are partly generated by shady transactions carried out in the south of the UK with banking services provided on the phone and the import of cars from England to Africa.
On October 16 this year, The Financial Times told the world about their investigations into ISIS’ financial sources, noting that after more than one year and 10.5 thousand airstrikes since the beginning of the West’s anti-terrorist campaign, the result has been the complete failure of US efforts to undermine the financial income of the terrorist group.
There are many different testimonies regarding the sources of ISIS financing. According to experts, despite the fact that ISIS positions itself as a political and religious organization, in fact, it functions as a criminal organization, and its main sources of income comprise tribute, smuggling, illegal oil sales and other types of crime. It is also mentioned that in Iraq and Syria the organization resorts to bank robberies, kidnapping and extortion after taking hostages as sources of income.
In particular, in June 2014 ISIS gunmen robbed a branch of the Central Bank of Iraq in Mosul, pocketing, according to various estimates, the sum ranging from $900 million to $2 billion dollars. Last week in Mosul, ISIS gunmen captured a branch of the Al-Rafidin bank, and according to witnesses, they drove away with three trucks full of money (the exact amount stolen is unknown, but according to some estimates, ISIS robbed several dozens of USD millions from the bank). In addition, ISIS receives funds from private investors in the Gulf countries, in particular Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, supporting the fight against Bashar Assad’s regime. This is done through Islamic charities, mostly in Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Thus, a member of Iran’s Majlis (Parliament) Mohammad Saleh Jokar asserts that ISIS has received financial assistance, including from Saudi Arabia, in the amount of USD 4 billion to conduct terrorist activities in Iraq. Now, according to the estimates of some experts, the organization’s budget could reach USD 7 billion, which until recently allowed the terrorist organizations to actively recruit mercenaries to its ranks and to finance various propaganda campaigns.
On February 18, 2015, Mohammed al-Hakim, the representative of Iraq to the United Nations, said that the “Islamic State” has been killing people to sell their organs. According to him, in the mass graves of ISIS victims, bodies of people have been found with signs of surgery. These people were missing kidneys and other internal organs.
ISIS also gains income from drug trafficking. According to Viktor Ivanov, the head of the Federal Drug Control Service in Russia, ISIS’ annual income from the transit of heroin from Afghanistan to Europe is up to one billion dollars.
However, most experts are now inclined to assume that the main source of ISIS’ income is smuggling oil and oil products from the occupied oil fields and refining capacities through Turkish, Kurdish and Jordanian intermediaries. They are sold at the cost 2-3 times lower than the global price. Every day, ISIS receives 3-3.5 million dollars into its budget. The ISIS’ oil business was established as a “National Oil Corporation.” Even warring Syrian rebels do not disdain to purchase ISIS products.
Although the US military continue to report on more and more sorties and attacks on ISIS targets in Iraq and in Syria, in fact, there have been no serious results from these bombings; ISIS oil profits have barely been affected and are now reaching about 500 million dollars a year (or 30-40 barrels per day). This fact alone is a stunning sign of the failure of the US-led fight against ISIS, because there is no serious damage to the terrorists’ financial sources to even speak of.
Against the backdrop of the insignificant damage caused by US air strikes on ISIS, the terrorist group has adapted quickly, delegating the refining process to hundreds of artisanal enterprises, and quickly restoring its minor losses from such activities of the US-led coalition.
Washington’s ineffective measures to cut off ISIS’ oil exports outside the area controlled by the terrorist group did not bring any significant results either: last year ISIS continued to sell oil not only through Turkey, but more recently through the corrupt channels of Kiev authorities in Odessa seaport, as well as through numerous intermediaries in the region.
In addition, ISIS has strengthened its financial position by meeting the needs of the “domestic market”, since ISIS diesel fuel production is in demand not only among the civilian population of Iraq and Syria, but also among rebel groups from the northern regions of the Syrian Arab Republic (SAR), including those formally opposing ISIS. Locals joined this process actively, even those not directly related to ISIS. In view of these circumstances, workflow, logistics, marketing and operational management is well established. In particular, the extent of this “business” is illustrated by the following: at the largest deposits in the Syrian province of Omar al-Hasakah, there is a 6 km long permanent queue of trucks.
The ISIS oil business engages professionals not only from within the region, but also beyond, offering a competitive salary. The Amniyat (ISIS Security Council) provides strict control over oil derricks and product distribution; the oil sector as a whole is on par with other key activities of the terrorist group and under the direct jurisdiction of the “Supreme Council”.
Lack of any radical steps and measures by the West and, above all, the United States to curb ISIS’ oil “business” through Turkey, Ukraine and several other states of the Middle East region, to a certain extent, can be explained by several factors. First of all, the fact that the terrorist organization was “dumping” significant volumes of oil over the past year on the external market is in line with the interests of the White House to use this “tool” to inflict financial loss, first of all, on Russia, whose national budget augmentation is largely dependent on the global oil prices. Therefore, there is little doubt that such ISIS “business” is coordinated from Washington, just as al-Qaeda’s subversive activities against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan were previously coordinated from there as well.
Against the background of the White House’s rhetoric in the Western media about its fight against international terrorism, evidence of Washington’s active tacit support of ISIS is also the fact that there are no sanctions imposed by the United States against countries and institutions that support ISIS.
Under these circumstances, Russia’s assistance requested by the legitimate government of Syria in deploying theAerospace Force of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and hitting not only military, but also the financial infrastructure objects of ISIS is certainly important in the international fight against these terrorist groups.
Vladimir Odintsov, political commentator, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.