By Richard O’Brien
So what does Daesh (aka ISIS/ISIL/IS) really stand for?
Profit. With assets of around US$2 billion – much of it obtained from looting money from banks, and the sale of near priceless artefacts stolen from museums and archaeological digs throughout Iraq and Syria – and an annual turnover of more than $1.5 billion, Daesh is big business. Putting that in perspective, back when al-Qaeda were top of the terrorism leader board, the CIA estimated their running costs at $30 million a year. According to the most conservative estimates, Daesh makes $30 million a month just from illegal oil sales.
About 60 per cent of Iraq and Syria’s oilfields are held by Daesh. Some of the oil produced is used for domestic consumption, some is sold back to the embargoed Assad regime, most of it is smuggled out through Turkey, Iran and Jordan, using routes established during international sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, and sold on the black market at a heavily discounted price.
The US, NATO and their allies have begun targeting oil trucks and refineries. On a good day they might destroy a few hundred barrels, out of an estimated daily production of 60,000. Daesh’s largest source of income, however, is derived from taxes extorted from the 8,000,000 people who live in the self-proclaimed Caliphate.
When it comes to ideology, Islamic State is about as Islamic as the Democratic People’s Republic of (North) Korea is democratic.
Sharia law is imposed throughout the Caliphate, not as part of some ultra-orthodox, jihadist belief system, but because it generates a lot of money. There are two reasons for this. Firstly its brutality terrifies the populous into submission – allowing Daesh to impose flat-rate taxes on electricity, ‘hygiene services’ and use of telephone networks, paid in cash to Daesh’s established revenue agency, Al Hisba, as well as customs on imported and exported goods. Secondly it is used to generate more revenue by imposing heavy fines on anyone who can (literally) afford to live in the Caliphate found guilty of not adhering to Daesh’s strict interpretation of Salafis doctrine.
That doctrine is not so strictly adhered to by Daesh themselves, who have no qualms about cultivating and trafficking illicit drugs, most of which finds its way to Europe via Turkey. Tens of millions more come from kidnapping and ransoming hostages, Internet cafes run in occupied territories and an estimated $40 million a year from private donations received mainly from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain; our allies in the war against Daesh.
Last, but by no means least, is agriculture. Daesh occupies farmland that is responsible for producing most of Iraq and Syria’s wheat, and almost all of Iraq’s barley. Even heavily discounted on the black market, this brings in another $200 million a year.
Fronting this business is a grotesquely brutal social media campaign, designed by some of the best paid marketing consultants in the business. Daesh’s target is Islam, who it plans to “cleanse” of all who do not adhere to their perverted, yet highly profitable, brand of jihadism. Unwittingly aided by the far-Right, whose hatred bears a striking resemblance to that of Daesh, their aim is to marginalise, radicalise and recruit people. The number of recruits they attract is currently very few, but as estimates of Daesh’s numbers presently ranging from 7,000 to 10,000 suggest, they don’t need very many.
Destroying Daesh won’t come from bombing Syria, a country that has already been ravaged by 4 years of civil war which has killed between 250,000 – 340,000 people and displaced over 4 million more. It won’t come from blaming Muslims – who are by far the biggest casualties of Daesh’s terror.
If the world is going to defeat Daesh it must do so by cutting it off from that which is most important to it – its profits. If we can justify laws that take away the privacy and civil liberties of citizens to protect them from terrorism, then we can do the same to the banks and hedge funds who hold and invest Daesh’s profits, or the companies that enable their black market sales, or the neighbouring countries that turn a blind eye to them.
That’s the bottom line.