Yesterday ISIS, the jihadist group that has gained control in eastern Syria and is now sweeping into Iraq, attacked and reportedly overtook Iraq's largest oil field. ISIS' advancement into Iraq is a serious enough threat that the U.S. has already sent troops to bolster security, and naval ships to the Gulf to launch potential air strikes. The oil field in Baiji, Iraq, though, would be just the latest addition to ISIS' portfolio of assets, which, according to the Guardian, could already top $2 billion.
ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, is incredibly well financed, says the New York Times: “Its members are better paid, better trained and better armed than even the national armies of Syria and Iraq”—two governments that the group is fighting simultaneously.
But where is ISIS getting its money?
ISIS is currently in charge of some of the oil fields in eastern Syria, and the group is selling the oil back to Syria's Assad regime and to others out of the country. The oil gives ISIS financial independence and a steady cash flow, says the Financial Times, amounting to “hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars a day” that is free from the whims of donor networks and governments. ISIS' control of the oil fields is precarious, though. They're fighting for control with another terrorist group.
Oil is an important part of ISIS' financing, but it's not the only source. ISIS controls a vast tract of territory in Syria and Iraq, one around the size of Belgium, says Vox. Included in that is factories, power plants, and shops, and ISIS pulls a cut from each. They also take a portion of any of the humanitarian aid money that moves through their territory, says the Times.
Like the rebel forces fighting in the Syrian civil war, ISIS is also selling archaeological artifacts, says the Guardian.
ISIS' goal is to carve out an independent state for the Sunni ethnic group that cuts across the Middle East. To do that will take much more than money, but having a steady supply helps. The oil fields in Baiji could add to their funds, an influx that could bolster their efforts both in Syria and Iraq.