Has ISIS Killed Its Golden Goose?

By Mark DeWeaver.

While it has long been assumed that ISIS gets most of its money from donors in the Gulf, recently declassified documents suggest otherwise.

Researchers at the RAND Corporation found that donations actually accounted for less than 5% of the group’s funding during the period from 2005 to 2010. (See this article.)

The city of Mosul, rather than Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, turns out to have been, as one researcher put it, “the area that was keeping the group afloat”—through extortion rackets, kidnapping, and robbery.

Following the fall of the city on June 10, it’s hard to see how this can continue to be the case. Out of a population of 1.8 million, the BBC has reported that 500,000 have fled. Presumably the wealthiest residents will not be returning any time soon. It is also unclear how Mosul’s remaining state employees are going to be paid. Obviously it won’t be possible to extort money from businesses without customers or collect ransoms from people who can’t afford to leave town. You can’t get blood from a stone after all.

It’s not even clear that ISIS could have stolen as much US$ 420 million from the Mosul branch of the Central Bank of Iraq (or, in some accounts, from a combination of the CBI and private banks). While this figure has been widely reported in the media, some analysts have dismissed it as wildly exaggerated.

In any case, looting can be only a short-term source of funds. Once the city’s homes and businesses have been stripped of cash and salable assets, this bonanza will come to an end as well.

ISIS apparently had a pretty good thing going in Mosul, where it could help itself to a share of the economy of one of Iraq’s largest cities with all but complete impunity. Once this golden goose has stopped laying, I wonder if they won’t end up concluding that they should have left well enough alone.

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