Anbar Desert Provides Extremists with Hiding Place and Business Opportunities
The desert in Anbar remains a lawless realm. Islamic State extremists are behind a booming import business on the Iraq-Syria border that is involving locals and funding fighting.
While Iraq’s security forces are busy elsewhere, focused on fighting the extremist group known as the Islamic State around Mosul, one part of the country is still profiting from disaster. Traders who live and work in the desert areas of Anbar province are doing great business facilitating goods coming in and out of Iraq and Syria in this area.
Most of the action is centred on the Rutba district, about 500 kilometres west of Baghdad near the Syrian border. And the Islamic State, or IS, group facilitate that business because, by taxing vehicles and extorting locals, they also make money out of it. “We deal with both the local security forces and the extremist groups,” says Abu Ammar al-Obeidi, a 49-year-old local who owns a refrigerated truck.
“We are totally used to it now, it’s our everyday business.”Al-Obeidi has been freighting goods in this area for various different companies for the past decade and he says that in the past he was frightened to travel on this road, which passes through Rutba, going from Baghdad into Syria and Jordan. But not anymore.
“Today this road is passable and there is nobody on it checking on the kinds of goods coming into the country,” al-Obeidi told NIQASH. “So you can make profits from all sorts of imports, including goods that have passed their sell-by date.”
Sources from inside Iraq’s security forces confirm that there is a lot of trade in these border areas. Some of the traders use official border crossings, such as those at Albu Kamal and Al Qaim, the towns on the Syrian and Iraqi sides of the border respectively. But there are also many unofficial border crossings in the desert around here, many of them not even that far away from the official crossings. The IS group and illegal traders move freely along over 300 kilometres of border between the Al Qaim and the Al Waleed crossings, as well as along the Akashat road, that connects Al Qaim and Rutba.