I am not sure whether I should refer to them as the Islamic State or the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq or as IS or as ISIS because I do not know what they call themselves. They seem to have grown into what is a de facto state, controlling certain areas of Iraq and Syria. Under traditional rules of recognition the British Government (and many other governments) would have recognised them as a state once they controlled two thirds of the land that they claimed, but these days the international recognition of a state depends more on political convenience rather than practical rules.
The growth of ISIS (I have decide that as an abbreviation will do) has been quite incredible. They seem to have arms, modern weapons, a large fighting army all of which have not arrived by a magical mystical process, but have been bought with real money supplied by real people, organisations and states.
ISIS is now waging war against Syria and Iraq, and a ruthless war is being waged, which is causing the states that oppose ISIS much heartache, much debate and much wringing of hands accompanied by statements of how bad ISIS is and what a serious threat they constitute.
No one seems to have addressed the question as to how ISIS has managed to acquire its weapons and its infrastructure. All this needs paying for and it is extremely costly to wage war against nations like Syria and Iraq and, as invaders have found over the centuries, extremely costly to equip a fighting force that can wage effective war.
I presume that the world’s money laundering regulations imposed ostensibly to prevent terrorists from using money to buy arms as well as to prevent criminals from enjoying their ill-gotten gains, have prevented ISIS from acquiring funds in the same way that similar organisations in the past have managed. No doubt the production of passports and proof of addresses to banks all over the world has stopped bank accounts being used as a conduit to buy arms for terrorists and undesirable organisations. So how ISIS is being financed?
According to Iraqi Kurds, ISIS has been financed by the British and US and Saudi Arabian and other governments. They claim that by providing arms and training to Syrians who are rebelling against president’s Assad’s government, they have been indirectly financing ISIS. The enemy of our enemy is not always our friend, but often provides a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea.
According to some reports ISIS has been imposing a tax or protection levy on many small businesses in the region in which it operates, rather like Al Capone did in the USA in the roaring twenties, or like organised crime syndicates do today. Apart from this extortion it seems that ISIS also control oil wells and collect revenue from them.
It is hard to prevent extortion, and any way the sums that can be extorted from small shop keepers and poor farmers are modest. The major source of funds must be from oil.
It should not be beyond the wit of an organised interlinked world to prevent oil dealers dealing in oil from ISIS sources and reselling it on the open market. It must also be possible to prevent those dealers from enjoying their ill gotten gains. ISIS apparently sells the oil it steals oil at a large discount, but the buyers are dealing in stolen property and those buying from them are also dealing in stolen property. It is ironic that the nations engaged in fighting ISIS have businesses and individuals who are profiting from ISIS sourced oil.
It seems to me that for a fraction of the cost of sending troops and bombing ISIS measures can and should be taken to prevent ISIS from profiting from oil and thus starve them of the arms they need and use so ruthlessly. But money always shouts louder than morality and for most it is more important to fill a car with petrol than to avoid doing so to prevent death and destruction in faraway places and ISIS, fed on stolen oil, will continue to grow until we understand that morality must overcome greed.