Where does ISIL’s money come from?
The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant’s (ISIL) combatant manpower to be between 20,000 to 31,500 in Iraq and Syria combined, and that was back in September, before the organization had attracted new recruits from all over the world.
Recently, another new generation terrorist organization in Egypt, the Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, which was responsible for killing 33 security personnel in Sinai on Oct. 24, announced on Nov. 10 that it had joined ISIL, adopting the name “the Sinai Province of the Islamic State.”
According to Turkish security sources, one of the key reasons why fighters in the Syrian and Iraqi theater have been attracted to ISIL is money, along with the group’s armed propaganda based on an obscene level of terror, as can be observed in a recent video showing ISIL militants of different nations beheading 12 people (including Syrian army officers and an American aid worker, Peter Kassig). Turkish sources claim that a number of fighters from the West-leaning Free Syrian Army (FSA), the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra, and other smaller organizations have tended to defect to ISIL for monthly payments varying between $100 to $500, depending on the rank and ability of the recruit.
On Nov. 14, Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung published documents captured from Abdul Rahman al-Bilawi during a raid by Iraqi security on June 5, 2014, a few days before the ISIL advance and capture of Mosul. Al-Bilawi was a high-ranking ISIL commander, controlling all war bureaucracy, including expenditures. We can now read that ISIL purchased American M4 assault rifles for $8,200 per piece and (again American) night vision devices for $2,900.
If CIA estimates are right, we are talking about an unconventional army, or guerilla force, of around 30,000, scattered across a geography carved out of adjacent areas of Iraq and Syria, using high-tech weaponry and ammunition as if it is coming from an endless supply.
Where does its money come from?
Security analysts cite three major sources:
1- The capture of money and assets from the towns and facilities seized. There were unconfirmed reports of the seizure of $400 million cash from banks in Mosul after ISIL entered the town on June 11. Almost all heavy weaponry used by ISIL was seized (or bought) from the Iraqi army by the FSA or al-Nusra. The Iraqi Agriculture Ministry believes that ISIL “stole” 1 million tons of grain during its advance in the Mosul, Nineveh and Salahadeen provinces and sold them to Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime. The amount of oil captured in Iraq’s biggest Bayji refinery is estimated to be 3 million tons.
2- As soon as ISIL captures a piece of land, it organizes its own economy there, and the oil trade is thought to top its income. According to an International Energy Agency report released on Oct. 14, thanks to the U.S. air raids on convoys and measures taken by Turkey and the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to prevent smuggling, ISIL’s oil revenue was cut by two thirds. However, oil exports from refineries in Beyji in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria to Damascus are continuing, according to security sources. There are other sources as well. For example, the Iraqi Human Rights Ministry claimed on Nov. 16 that ISIL imposed monthly taxes on students in Mosul and other cities under its control: 25,000 dinars ($22) for elementary school students, 50,000 dinars ($43) for secondary school students, and 75,000 dinars ($65) for university students.
3- Western intelligence agencies believe that there might be illegal funds supporting ISIL, especially from oil-rich Arab families in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, despite those governments’ support for the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL. From past experience, oil-rich Gulf Arabs favor neither a strong Iraq nor a strong Iran in the neighborhood, and tend to support anything to curb their power. Therefore, ISIL is not necessarily an ideological choice for them, rather a destructive and efficient tool.
These are among the main reasons why it seems like ISIL will not to be such a short story.