Why bomb­ing oil trucks alone won’t put ISIS in poor­house

Toronto Star - - WORLD - MITCH POT­TER FOR­EIGN AF­FAIRS WRITER

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.

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