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Terrorism – The bottom line

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.



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  1. Friday

    Wow, Richard, standing between terror and profit is a dangerous place. Perhaps some of the profit is shared by the bullet makers? Are we in the arms trade??

  2. Matters Not

    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


    The US, NATO and their allies have begun targeting oil trucks and refineries.

    Possibly, or perhaps probably, all ‘true’ but working on the assumption you aren’t a ‘primary source’ could you provide a few links to some ‘evidence’ of that primary variety so one can evaluate the ‘veracity’ for one’s self Just askin ..

  3. Mick

    Do you happen to have information on hand regarding who is buying that oil?

  4. Chris the Greatly Dismayed

    Information on oil buying is good from here Britain’s secret ties to governments, firms behind ISIS oil sales by Nafeez Ahmed
    And this makes some interesting comparisons on claims about IS financial sources The Saudi Connection to Terror

    It all is seeming a bit irrelevant to know these things…. that and our politicians and regular media just ignore anything counter to their story. “Back to Square One, Obama Says Assad Must Go”
    And after disappearing….this video is back : / “Silent for the Sake of Arms Sales? ”
    And finally, the same goes for Australia, “History Will Judge America on Syrian Refugee Crisis As “Shameful” ”
    The Real News Network is excellent….despite all the ‘World War 3’ getting in the way of important climate negotiations.

  5. Matters Not

    Chris the Greatly Dismayed, I’ve only read your first link. And his included links. It’s impressive. I’ll plough on.

  6. Matters Not

    Chris the Greatly Dismayed, I’ve read the links. And yes it’s much more complicated that I’ve realised to date.

    But I am not convinced it’s all about the profits in the sense that the profits are the ends in themselves and not just the ‘means’ to other ‘ends’.

    If it’s all about the ‘profit’, then who are the particular beneficiaries? Or is the suggestion that they are ALL just unknowing ‘puppet’ fools.

    There’s ‘facts’ and then there’s any number of ‘meanings’ that can be given to same.

  7. The AIM Network

    Matters Not, usually we add links to guest posts to back up material, but time got away from us. We will do this when time permits. We’re a busy team here.

  8. silkworm

    Why has ISIS never attacked Israel?

  9. Matters Not

    The AIM Network, my apologies, I wasn’t aware of the process. But in this instance Chris the Greatly Dismayed lit a few lights.

  10. Chris the Greatly Dismayed

    Yeah the Nafeez Ahmed one ‘is impressive in its depth (and breadth)’.
    The main profiteers are, the military industrial complex’, obviously.
    I tried to explain the relevance of religion in a reply to someone else here but their post ‘disappeared’ (often happens when I explain religion…) so my reply did also…..I ended with the Thomas Mann quote “Everything is politics.” You could also add that profits are power….
    As I have also said before, apart from anger, the common emotion displayed by people of the Middle East or Muslim people is despair.
    This gives a ‘good feeling’ for that . It is the most recent BBC Hardtalk interview(Nov) with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat which does not seem to be on the BBC website. It shows the despair of even the most moderate Middle Eastern people. Even though it is Palestine related it transfers to other issues and places in sentiment.
    Some claim that this is about shifting the current demographics for the benefit of a ‘Greater Israel’…….perhaps could be true but is obviously a speculative claim.

  11. The AIM Network

    No worries Matters Not. With Michael offline we’re a bit short staffed. Cheers, Roswell.

  12. Chris the Greatly Dismayed

    @silkworm Its a shame more analysts and commentators don’t have facial tattoos. That does show some commitment. : )

  13. richardaobrien

    Matters Not,
    Here are the sources I used for the article. The estimates vary between sources, in those cases I usually went for the lower figure or a range. Information on Syrian civil war casualties came from Wikipedia (all sourced).

    What Keeps ISIS Running: the Funding and Support of a Terror Organization

    ISIS annual income nears 3 billion: estimate

  14. PopsieJ

    A couple of comments. Malcolm Turnbull comes back from his recent trips overseas and the first thing he says is that Assad is a murderous tyrant and must go ! who fills his head full of that ? Accept that ISIS is sponsored by US Israel and Saudi Arabia and the whole ME situation is explained, Israel gets to keep Golani Heights and its newly found oil ( google Genie oil ) and of course somewhere to move the Palestians to. Iran becomes less secure with hostile forces on its border.
    Re Turkey, Erdogan s son runs the oil company that handles the oil sales to ISIS, Russia destroyed his oil tankers, so Turkey shoots down a Russian plane that is targeting oil sales to ISIS. go figure.
    I see the antics of our Parliament and I shudder to think that the bunch of fools could commit us to war again.

  15. townsvilleblog

    The west needs to crush this movement and fast, all nations should send their SAS troops in to destroy IS before they expand and engulf the world.

  16. Mercurial

    Daesh may be big business, but it has the gross domestic product equivalent to that of Barbados or Eritrea. Imagine those countries posing an existential threat!

    townsvilleblog, have you learned nothing from the last 20 years?

  17. Matters Not

    richardaobrien, thanks for your link(s). Most illuminating.

    that handles the oil sales to ISIS

    PopsieJ, I think ISIL is a ‘seller’ of oil. Not a buyer.

    As for: Erdogan s son runs the oil company that handles the oil sales to ISIS. Do you have a link?

  18. stephentardrew

    Turkey is demonstrating that it certainly does not like its profits turned off. Rather rash. The hypocrisies and double dealings in the Middle East is a can of worms we cannot solve so best leave it to the bullies. Bring our people home and let’s move to a non-aligned position. The rubbish that we need a close alliance with the US rather than intelligent diplomatic ties with all players is just rubbish. Plenty of nations play as non-aligned entities and manage to survive quite comfortably.

  19. JeffJL

    Matters Not. You had to ask for links didn’t you.

    Now my download allowance will be used on just this page.

    Thanks. /s

  20. John.R.

    To the author.You are close but not quite close enough.All wars throughout the history of this planet have been fought over natural resourses. Just follow the money. It is about oil but more about gas.The North and South Pars fields in the Persian Gulf. The north field is owned by Iran who along with Iraq and Syria ( Shiite dominated) and with the help of Russia agreed in 2012 to build a pipeline to the coast of Syria and send it to Europe.. Funny how a ” Civil war ” ? broke out in Syria just after that
    The South Pars field is owned by Qatar,who along with Saudi Arabia ( Sunni )and the good ole` USA wanted,and still do,to pipe it through Turkey. Of course Turkey wants a piece of the action too.
    This is another reason why Saudi Arabia declined to cut oil output and to put a glut on the market.To screw Russia for the USA.
    There is absolutely no concept of bringing any form of democracy to any of these counties( Western Govts. make a joke of it ). None of the players care. Turkey and the USA are playing a two faced game and all Govts would know whats going on.
    Just like in any previous war the people doing the shooting are cannon fodder for those who ultimately control the money flowing into the war.
    Religion, along with the promise of freedoms are tools these people use to get halfwits to fight for them
    And you will never see the supply of gas to Europe as an aspect of this current war and as a cause of it in the MSN.And they are not that illinformed

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