Why bombing oil trucks alone won’t put ISIS in poorhouse
Thefts by the Islamic State group in the province of Deir al-Zour included 17 houses, 80 cars, 1,200 cases of cigarettes, 1,320 sheep and 50 cows
The grand assumption is that the Islamic State group’s cash comes from oil. In the beginning it did — perhaps upwards of $40 million (U.S.) a month and as much as $500 million overall in smuggled crude, one senior U.S. Treasury official said this week. Perversely, much of that black gold slips across the battle lines to fuel Syria’s Assad regime. More still is spirited to Turkey. But as U.S.-led airstrikes hone in on Islamic State-held depots and smuggling routes, new research suggests the oil money has begun to dry up.
The biggest and best clue — an actual monthly municipal budget recently smuggled out of Deir al-Zour, the oiliest of the 19 provinces under Islamic State control — shows outright theft is the biggest source of the group’s income. “Confiscations” of property from citizens that Islamic State deemed disloyal accounted for a whopping 44.7 per cent of the province’s monthly budget last January. Those thefts included 17 houses, 80 cars, 36 trucks, 1,200 cases of cigarettes, 1,320 sheep and 50 cows.
Oil income paled by comparison, adding up to less than a quarter of the budget — about $66,000 a day.
Theft is nothing new for Islamic State — the group looted as much as $500 million from banks in northern and western Iraq following its conquest of the city of Mosul, according to U.S. estimates.
But such infusions are dependent on further territorial gains — an unlikely prospect in the near term. In turn, the campaign against Islamic State may be forcing the group the dig deeper into the pockets of the people under their rule.
Zakat, the Islamic principle of taxation, is thought to account for as much as half of Islamic State’s monthly $80-million income, according to a recent analysis by IHS Global Strategies — and the group has become more aggressive and predatory in recent months, with an intensifying array of tolls and fines aimed at extracting every available dollar.
Multiple reports suggest deepening popular resentment within Islamic State territory as people struggle to pay. But the dynamic of financing from within also means the aerial bombardment of oil trucks alone won’t put the group in the poorhouse.
Like the Taliban before them, Islamic State likes to blow up ancient things that were once subject to worship. But the confiscation of valuable non-religious antiquities remains a black market source of cash. But the trade in antiquities, though difficult to quantify, is believed by many researchers to be a minor income source at best.
Aymenn al-Tamimi, the Middle East Forum scholar who first revealed the leaked Islamic State budget from Deir al-Zour, notes that antiquities did not even register as a line item on the document.