Corporation Jihad

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The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or IS, a terrorist organization held responsible for numerous abuses and war crimes, has been around since 1999. But only in 2014, when the group proclaimed a worldwide caliphate, did it garner much attention and media focus from all over the globe.

Its annual reports, with numerical information on operations somewhat akin to corporate reports, numerous streams of income at its fingertips, and even the intention to mint their own coins, makes it clear they are prepared to take their destructive presence to a whole new level.

The Islamic State now controls around 300 oil wells in Iraq alone. At its peak, it operated 350 oil wells in Iraq, but lost 45 to foreign airstrikes. It has captured 60% of Syria's total production capacity. About one fifth of its total capacity is in operation.

Thus, oil sales from captured fields are the group’s first and foremost source of income: $1 million of oil revenues a day is a figure largely used to estimate what kind of economy the group is trading in. Dubai-based energy analysts have put the combined daily oil revenue from IS's Iraqi-Syrian production as high as $3 million. Those impressive figures have made some analysts assume the Islamic State could eventually become a notable player on the global oil market. Kevin DeJesus, Adjunct Professor at Johnson and Wales University and author of the forthcoming book “ISIS: The Rise of the Islamic State” thinks it’s not very likely.

"They will not become a legitimate player certainly, and they will not be recognized as any kind of formal state structure that has bilateral or multilateral trade relations between one country or another, or several countries."

Its current foreign sales rely on a long-standing black market to export via Turkey. Energy sales include selling electric power from captured power plants in northern Syria. Another source of funding is reportedly the sale of artifacts for IS – stolen artifacts are smuggled into Turkey and Jordan – as well as plundered banks and gold shops. All in all, according to some reports, the organization has assets worth up to $2 billion, which makes it the richest terrorist group the world has ever seen.

With the resources coming from oil and gas assets that they’ve acquired, their illegal trade on the black market, and the ransom that they were able to collect, particularly over the summer of 2014, many are asking who is supporting the Islamic State and its apparatus. But so far, experts don’t dare point to any particular country; opting to back speculation with proven evidence.

In November 2014, the group announced that it intends to issue its own currency, and even showcased designs of the proposed coins, which displayed imagery including a map of the world, a sword and shield. Right after that, it began buying up gold, silver and copper in markets throughout northern and western Iraq, according to precious metal traders in the area. However, most analysts are skeptical of the plans, and Kevin DeJesus from Johnson and Wales University is among them.

"I think that is a very complex question of whether they will be able to actually organize, at a very local level, this kind of currency exchange. Perhaps it’s another mechanism of extortion of the locals… This is something that I think is an interesting symbolic move but I think it is lesser likely that this would be a key strategy at this juncture, given Islamic State’s defense of its own status right now, in the face of coalition assaults."

Economists say that IS’s current situation is weak, as its leadership has shown little interest in economics beyond a crude form of socialism in which property is confiscated and distributed to their supporters. Also, a continuing stream of political and military victories may satisfy the population of the occupied territory for a time but it’s most likely to be followed by increased unemployment and sharply higher food prices, with falling oil prices taking their toll as well.

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