Iraqi laborers work at the Rumaila oil refinery in Zubair near the city of Basra, Iraq, in a 2009 file photo.

Iraqi laborers work at the Rumaila oil refinery in Zubair near the city of Basra, Iraq, in a 2009 file photo. AP Photo/Nabil al-Jurani, File

The United Nations Must Clamp Down on ISIS Oil Profits

With little power to stop Islamic State administrators from taxing subjugated populations, the world community must focus on limiting petrochemical revenues.

If there is one element in the Syrian civil war that Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin agree on, it is the need to deprive the Islamic State of money. The group, by far the richest terrorist organization on the planet, is estimated to hold at least $2 billion — half of which it plundered from Mosul banks last year. U.S. Treasury Department officials say ISIL makes another $500 million annually from smuggling oil. Combined with the sale of cultural artifacts and antiquities and taxing its subjected people, the organization pulls in over a billion dollars annually.

Common sense says this money will go to finance attacks in Europe; consolidate its presence in Syria and Iraq by buying off potential adversaries; increase its rank-and-file through relatively high payments; and complicate the efforts of Syrian rebel groups to prevent defections.

But what can the United States and its allies and partners do about it?

Even before Operation Inherent Resolve began in August 2014, the Obama administration was well on its way to clamping down on ISIL by designating it a terrorist organization ineligible to move money through the international financial system. But the U.S. can only do so much. This is why the U.N. Security Council, under China’s presidency during February, held a special session to clamp down on the financial industries, crude oil smuggling, banking, and donations that have kept the Islamic State alive and kicking. That meeting quickly culminated in a unanimous UNSC resolution on ISIL’s financing. Neither Moscow nor Washington, however, are satisfied with the effort. Oil continues to be smuggled across state lines and sold to the Assad regime in an arrangement that has benefited both sides in the Syrian civil war.

U.S. and Russian officials are now negotiating a new resolution that will be presented to the full council membership on Dec. 17. “Cutting ISIL off from the international financial system and disrupting its financing are critical to effectively combatting this violent terrorist group,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said in a press release announcing the upcoming meeting. “A united international front is vital to achieve that goal, and this meeting marks an important step in coordinating our efforts.”

Although the resolution is still being drafted, it’s safe to assume that the text will include extensive reporting requirements to the Security Council from the U.N. Counterterrorism Committee, member states, and the Secretary General on implementation and determinations on whether any state is struggling or refusing to cooperate with its provisions. Unfortuntately, the international community ultimately has little power to stop these kinds of practices. Unlike the old Al-Qaeda under the stewardship of Osama bin Laden, the Islamic State is not dependent on wealthy donors from the Persian Gulf opening up their wallets and sending money across state lines, where counter-financing measures like sanctions on specific banks would be effective in slowing down. The Islamic Stateis a self-sustaining money machine with an extensive system of taxation, monetary fees and penalties, and extortion within the territory it controls combines to form the most important financial lifeline for the organization.. Absent a full-fledged, coordinated ground offensive in Syria and Iraq, where the objective is clearing and holding the territory that ISIL currently administers as its caliphate, those taxes and fees will continue to line its coffers.

In short: the U.N. system simply doesn’t have the authority to compel ISIL to cease taxing or fining the people it subjects. But it can dent its oil revenues by barring limiting the routes that smugglers use to transport the oil to Turkey and the Kurdish regions and deter U.N. member states from importing the oil that is produced.

And the Security Council can authorize the U.N.’s various counterterrorism committees to monitor activity in member states bordering Syria to ensure that, at the very least, ISIL’s oil trade is contained to one country.

The reporting requirements in the February resolution are relatively lax and focus more on best practices and U.N. procedure. Instead of simply requiring member states to update the U.N. on what actions they are taking to implement the resolution, any draft resolution considered next week must enact an accountability mechanism. If states or their nationals are participating in any way with purchasing or transporting the crude oil that ISIL produces — and if there is reasonable, articulable evidence to this effect — the committee responsible for monitoring should disclose that information to the Security Council and recommend penalties if the violations continue into the future.

Last but not least, the U.N. Security Council should include a provision in any resolution that “calls upon” the Turkish Government to devote more staff and electronic surveillance to guard its 500-mile border with Syria, including the 60 miles of border that remain open to ISIL oil exports. The U.N. Counterterrorism Committee should be encouraged to report to the Security Council as to Turkey’s behavior on this front, with the possibility of more stringent measures being debated in the future if the Syria-Turkey border remains a hindrance to the counter-ISIL effort.

Any unified effort from the international community should be welcomed, and the Dec. 17 meeting in New York certainly won’t hurt the war effort. Yet we must be cognizant of reality: the Security Council doesn’t have a lot of leverage over the situation. What leverage the body does have must be maximized to the greatest possible extent. 

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.