How Does ISIS Fund Its Reign of Terror?

NOVEMBER 6, 2014 

The Islamic State’s staggering successes come at a cost. After all, it’s not cheap to wage war and manage territorial conquests whose population is now roughly the size of Austria’s.

So how can ISIS, cut off from the rest of the world by financial and trade sanctions, and under daily aerial and land bombardment by some of the richest countries in the world, afford to maintain a well-armed military and pay other bills?

Interviews with Iraqi, Kurdish, European, Syrian and American government officials, analysts and intelligence agents sketch a portrait of ISIS’s robust, sprawling, and efficient financial operation. The terrorist group relies on a relatively complex system to manage its far-reaching networks. Its currencies of choice—cash, crude oil and contraband—allow it to operate outside of legitimate banking channels. Turkey’s southern corridor, Iraq’s northwestern corridor and Syria’s northeastern corridor are key weak spots, well away from the prying eyes of outside investigators.

ISIS’s financial needs go beyond underwriting terror. “It’s a huge financial package to support 8 million people—which is now the size of the population living in territories under ISIS control,” says Luay al-Khatteeb, visiting fellow of the Doha Brookings Center and director of the Iraq Energy Institute in Baghdad. “ISIS is also supporting tens of thousands of militants who have been at war for months, with new recruits coming in every day. Yet it keeps all these people answerable to them, seems to have incredible cross-border mobility and shows no signs right now of running out of money or fuel.”


On October 23, Washington’s point person in the fight against ISIS—the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen—acknowledged in a speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington that “[ISIS] has amassed wealth at an unprecedented pace and its revenue sources have a different composition from those of many other terrorist organizations.” ISIS doesn’t “depend principally on moving money across international borders,” he said, but “obtains the vast majority of its revenues from local criminal and terrorist activities.”

This presents a formidable obstacle for the U.S. Treasury, which is accustomed to pursuing its enemies by pressuring established banks to expose their criminal clients. ISIS’s use of middlemen across the Middle East to smuggle cash in and out of its territory, in addition to employing decades-old smugglers’ routes, makes the group especially hard to track.

The reach of ISIS’s financial portfolio is broad and lucrative. Highly localized and multiple revenue streams feed the terrorist organization’s coffers—generating up to $6 million a day, according to Masrour Barzani, head of Kurdish Intelligence and the Kurdistan Regional Security Council.

Suitcases Full of Cash

Secret smuggling routes are often passed on by families from generation to generation, and they were well-secured during the lean years of economic sanctions imposed by the West during Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship in Iraq. Border guards were in on the baksheesh system entrenched in the culture. They would turn a blind eye when cash in suitcases or trucks containing oil or goods passed through their checkpoints. Many smugglers who traded Saddam’s oil across Iraq’s borders to Kuwait, Iran and Turkey are now working the same routes between ISIS-held Iraq and the outside world.

At its heart, the ISIS money machine runs on the fear—and greed—of the millions of people it controls. It also manifests itself in a wide range of financial activities, many of them outsourced via middlemen and driven by hordes of self-interested parties. The U.S. Treasury has declined to estimate the extent of ISIS’s total assets and revenue streams, but Cohen has called it “the best-funded terrorist organization” the U.S. has “ever confronted.”

Militants parade through the streets of Raqqa, Syria in an undated image posted on Monday, June 30, 2014, by ISIS as propaganda. The United States has made strides toward stitching together a coalition to tackle the extremist group, but faces reluctance from Mideast allies who are deeply frustrated with a White House that they believe has been naive, fickle and weak on Syria’s civil war.ISIS/AP

The ISIS economy and its fighters predominantly rely on the production and sale of seized energy assets—Iraq has the fifth-largest proven crude oil reserves in the world. ISIS also depends on the steady income it extracts from private donors, the heavy taxation and extortion it levies on its captive population, the seizure of bank accounts and private assets in the lands it occupies, ransoms from kidnappings and the plundering of antiquities excavated from ancient palaces and archaeological sites.

“You could say ISIS is destructive on an unprecedented scale, because it is not just destroying human lives today,” says Abdulamir al-Hamdani, an Iraqi archaeologist specializing in Mesopotamia at the Department of Anthropology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. “We’re talking about the destruction of humankind back to the beginning of humankind.”

Royal Donors in the Gulf

Grossing as much as $40 million or more over the past two years, ISIS has accepted funding from government or private sources in the oil-rich nations of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait—and a large network of private donors, including Persian Gulf royalty, businessmen and wealthy families.

Until recently, all three countries had openly given hefty sums to rebels fighting Bashar Assad’s Syrian regime, among them ISIS. Only after widespread criticism from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the international community did Saudi Arabia pass legislation in 2013 criminalizing financial support of terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda, Al-Nusra and ISIS.

In August, ISIS was declared “Enemy Number One” by the most senior Islamic cleric in Saudi Arabia, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, and Saudi Arabian bomber and fighter planes joined U.S. airstrikes against ISIS. So far, Qatar and Kuwait have not followed suit.

Lori Plotkin Boghardt, a fellow in Gulf politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in Washington, D.C., tells Newsweek that private donors across the Persian Gulf are continuing to funnel money to ISIS. “Qatar and Kuwait continue to stick out as two trouble spots when it comes to counterterrorist financing enforcement,” she said. Continued financial sanctions imposed on Kuwait and Qatar terrorist financiers by the U.S. Treasury “suggest the U.S. government continues to be concerned about spotty, to say the least, Kuwaiti and Qatari enforcement of their counterterrorist financing laws.”

A couple of factors are frustrating attempts to dam these rivers of cash. First, the relatively open banking systems of Qatar and Kuwait are being skillfully exploited by ISIS, since, unlike Saudi banks, they do not automatically raise red flags when money is siphoned to Islamist causes.

Second, Qatar and Kuwait are loath to limit the activities of highly influential ISIS donors due to the political fallout such intervention may cause. In Kuwait, a family of parliamentarians—including Kuwaiti member of parliament Mohammed Hayef al-Mutairi—has raised funds for jihadist groups with direct ties to ISIS. “Cracking down on some ISIS financiers is politically complicated for these countries’ leaderships,” Boghardt says.

Funds tend to reach ISIS militants by a circuitous route, frequently flowing from Qatar to Kuwait, which operates as a clearinghouse for funds headed to Syria and Iraq, according to the Washington think tank the Brookings Institution.

Fake Humanitarian Aid

These donations, Newsweek has learned, are also routinely laundered through unregistered charities in the form of “humanitarian aid,” with terrorists coordinating geographical drop-off points for payments using cellphone applications such as WhatsApp and Kik. Not only can WhatsApp be used around the world but, crucially, it incorporates a GPS mapping tool that makes it easier for terrorists to communicate their exact locations to each other. Kik offers the added benefit of allowing terrorists to register a username without providing a phone number that could identify them. Affiliated ISIS Twitter accounts openly publish their Kik usernames.

WhatsApp, bought by Facebook last month for $19 billion, would not respond to Newsweek questions about whether it was aware ISIS operatives were using its mobile-messaging platform or whether it had a policy to flag, monitor or report to U.S. authorities the communications of known terrorists. In an emailed statement to Newsweek, a representative for Kik said it doesn’t “see, store or monitor the content of conversations between users.” 

One Twitter user, who describes himself as a “random British mujahed somewhere in the Islamic State” and goes by the name Abu Hussain al-Britani, urges “brothers only” to get in touch. Another, calling himself Sayf al-Wali, a “mujahed of Khalifa somewhere in al-Khalifa,” daringly shares his Kik and Skype names, as well as his details. On Twitter, he exhorts followers to “only add [me] if you are sincere” and to not “ask a million questions.”

Other Twitter users following ISIS propaganda accounts in Arabic, as well as English, encourage friends and followers to reach them via Kik, Skype or by less transparent means. “Im off twitter forever inshallah,” wrote Abu Musab Jazairi, one such user who offered up his Kik name. “If you need me, Kik: nadjmu.” He signed off “Asalaam Alaykum,” a common Arabic expression for “peace be with you.”

Hundreds of these social media accounts exist solely for the purpose of retweeting propaganda from ISIS channels—primarily in English—and promoting the contact details of ISIS operatives to “truthful” followers. But once a connection is made, donations to ISIS operations soon follow. None of the accounts of self-described mujaheds contacted by Newsweek would comment.

Having been disguised as aid, the private funds become much easier to funnel to ISIS in large quantities. For this reason, Saudi Arabia, aware that ISIS fund-raisers may masquerade as humanitarian aid organizations, has blanket-banned unauthorized donations destined for any part of Syria.

The Kuwait Connection

In May 2014, the Brookings Institution published a briefing urging that the filtering of aid to Syria be tightened, as the lines between humanitarian campaigns and jihad funding were becoming increasingly blurred. One of Brookings’s correspondents, Elizabeth Dickinson, noted that fund-raisers in Kuwait would appeal for donations to help orphans, refugees—“and jihad.” In this way, funds earmarked for war and aid have become indistinguishable.

In Kuwait, the social media– and television-savvy al-Ajmi family of Sunni clerics lies at the center of Islamist fund-raising efforts for extremists. Chief among them is Shafi al-Ajmi, known for his involvement in terrorist funding, according to Treasury, and who admitted in July he collected funds, ostensibly for “charity,” and delivered them in person to the ISIS-linked Al-Nusra Front. Al-Ajmi also acknowledged buying and smuggling arms on behalf of Al-Nusra.

Kuwaiti islamist Shafi al-Ajmi YASSER AL-ZAYYAT/AFP/GETTY

Another vocal Islamist member of the al-Ajmi tribe, Hajjaj al-Ajmi, a powerful Kuwaiti Sunni cleric who fund-raises for jihadist groups in Syria, has also caught Treasury’s attention. The Twitter bio that appears to be for his Qatari representative, Mubarak Alajji, describes Hajjaj al-Ajmi as liking “Sunni jihadists who hate Shia and infidels.” A Facebook page that appears to belong to Alajji is awash with photos of Syrian jihadist groups. He also heads up Twitter-sourced fund-raising campaigns that conflate jihadist fighting and humanitarian aid.

Offering a critical assist as a fund-raiser-in-arms to the Al-Ajmi clerics, according to a December 2013 Brookings report by Dickinson, is Ajeel al-Nashmi, one of Kuwait’s most senior bankers and a board member for large institutions across the Islamic finance sector. According to the report, a “campaign poster shows at least four other Syrian clerics,” including Al-Nashmi, participating in a fundraiser spearheaded by Shafi and Hajjaj al-Ajmi that “helped fund an offensive in Latakia during which several hundred civilians were massacred.” The report noted that while it was not clear if the clerics encouraged the violence, “sectarian rhetoric on several of these individuals’ Twitter feeds certainly offers the impression that they did not condemn it.”

Kuwait, as of late last month, was the single largest donor of “uncommitted” aid to Syria—which means the funds between donor and recipient are not guaranteed to reach a specific cause or destination. Until October 22, around $200 million since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011 had been donated to Syria without any official paper trail for the funds, according to the Financial Tracking Service (FTS), a global monitoring service managed by the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. At the same time, FTS said that around $11 million had been given to anonymous Syrian “charities” by Qatari investors, without any documentation disclosing exactly who received the cash.

Few established worldwide humanitarian agencies have genuine links to the region, the Red Cross and Red Crescent tell Newsweek. As a result, any donations to smaller “humanitarian aid” groups provide no guarantee that they will actually reach genuine aid workers in the region.

Donations come in all forms, but ISIS has strong preferences for how it likes to receive money or payment in kind. “The transfers are made in cold cash or in the form of arms deliveries,” says Haras Rafiq, head of outreach at London’s anti-radicalization think tank Quilliam Foundation. “The physical transfer is usually delivered into Syria via the Turkish border, because it is much less perilous. Crossing into Iraq or Syria from the Saudi border is policed much more heavily.”

Activists on the Turkish-Syrian border, who told Newsweekthey would rather not be named for their own safety, confirmed that the flow of terrorists and rebel fighters between the two countries was virtually unpoliced.

Across the Turkish Border

Border crossings between Turkey and Syria—for instance, in the town of Gaziantep in southeast Turkey—were noted as key places where funds heading for ISIS could be transferred. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security confirmed to Newsweek that, despite ISIS’s dependence on high technology, the group does not yet appear to be using virtual currencies like Bitcoin to avoid engaging with the global financial system.

A Homeland Security Department agent said that due to ISIS’s dependence on criminal networks, it is forced to trade mainly in cash. Operating in such a fashion is not difficult, as $1 million to $2 million can easily fit into a briefcase, and that is not an unusual practice in the Middle East among executives and businessmen. Combined with lax controls on the bags and briefcases that pass through many Middle East airports—particularly for the wealthy traveling in private planes—it’s not hard to see how large quantities of cash can quietly exchange hands across borders.

The ringleaders of the “humanitarian” and other fund-raising movements include Qatar-based Tariq bin al-Tahar al-Harzi, 32, named in September by the U.S. Treasury as an ISIS fundraiser who gathered around $2 million from Qatari funders that was sent straight to ISIS.

Abd al-Rahman bin 'Umayr al Nu'ayai 

Treasury also singled out Qatari Salim al-Kuwaru, who secured “hundreds of thousands of dollars” for ISIS, as well as acting as the financier for the terror group’s Iraqi affiliates. A third Qatari targeted by Treasury is Abd al-Rahman bin ‘Umayr al-Nu’aymi, a funder and fixer for ISIS-linked Islamist groups in Syria and Iraq who, according to a December Treasury report, “oversaw the transfer of over $2 million per month to [Al-Qaeda] in Iraq for a period of time.”

Many of the fund-raising campaigns are not explicitly advertised as benefitting ISIS, observes Rafiq. But with Islamist fighting dominated by ISIS, he says the terrorists “can have their pick of any resources sent to Syria or Iraq, especially to smaller Islamist groups.… They are the biggest beast in the jungle now.”

ISIS is currently receiving enough steady supplies of funds to sustain itself for the foreseeable future, says Kurdish Intelligence’s Barzani, noting that “many people who believe in these extremist ideologies believe it is their duty to donate.”

More Mammon Than Islam

ISIS has made it clear its mission is less about Islam than about mammon. In June, when ISIS took Mosul, Iraq, and commandeered its 12 bank branches, its fighters went straight to the homes of bank employees—who weren’t working, in observation of the holy month of Ramadan—and forced them to reopen the Iraqi Central Bank, the former governor of Nineveh province Atheel al-Nujaifi toldNewsweek.

Along with cash kept in bank vaults in the Iraqi city of Tikrit, an estimated total of $1.5 billion has been seized from banks by ISIS, witnesses in Iraq told Newsweek. “ISIS was inside the banks,” says an Iraq-based American refugee worker in Erbil, whose circle of associates in Mosul includes a Christian teacher who “went to the bank to take out money and was not allowed to.… No other employees were there, just ISIS militants.… People in Mosul believe ISIS has stolen the money.” Others making withdrawals from banks in ISIS-occupied cities are “taxed” up to 10 percent, according to Treasury, which says ISIS routinely robs banks. 

In ISIS’s seat of power, Raqqa, Syria—on the northeast bank of the Euphrates—terrorists repurposed the art school into a customs building to monitor all goods coming into and out of the city, including food, medicine and electronics, Raqqa residents who escaped the area toldNewsweek. ISIS applies a “tax” to all goods imported to or exported from the city. ISIS even “taxes” groups providing genuine humanitarian aid in its own war zone. “ISIS taxes people transporting nearly anything,” says one Lebanese intelligence officer. “Allowing local smuggling and other illicit activities, while against the tenets of Islam, allows for a very lucrative revenue stream.”

ISIS billboards are seen along a street in Raqqa, eastern Syria, which is controlled by the militant group, October 29, 2014. The billboard reads: "We will win despite the global coalition". Nour Fourat/Reuters NOUR FOURAT/REUTERS

Then there is straightforward theft from the people they have conquered. “When ISIS overran Mosul last June, they literally took necklaces off women—earrings off their ears. They also went after livestock, furniture, cars,” recalls Sajad Jiyad, an Iraqi analyst at Integrity, a London-based think tank.

Raising revenues to set up a viable state, rather than being motivated solely by religion, is what separates ISIS from Al-Qaeda and similar Islamist terrorist groups. And running a war against its neighbors and maintaining a state of 8 million residents is costly, says Cohen. “In order to keep track of all its revenues and costs, [ISIS] depends on complex management networks with [chief financial officer]-like figures at the top.”

ISIS’s diktats are strictly enforced, not just to keep the population in order but to replenish its funds. If shopkeepers and street vendors wish to stay in business, they must pay what is often the equivalent of hundreds of dollars a month, according to sources in Raqqa. And there are heavy fines, too, for stepping out of line. Raqqa residents are charged similar amounts if they do not attend Friday prayers at exactly the right time.

Looting Ancient Sites

More than a third of Iraq’s 12,000 important archaeological sites are now under ISIS control and it has hastily begun excavating and selling artifacts dating from 9,000 B.C. to A.D. 1,000 through intermediaries to collectors and dealers, says al-Hamdani. “It is the looting of the very roots of humanity, artifacts from the oldest civilizations in the world. A shrine, a tomb, a church, a palace or an archaeological site is dug up. They will sell the useful objects and destroy the rest.”

By some estimates, these sales now represent ISIS’s second largest source of funding. One of its biggest paydays recently came from looting the ninth century B.C. grand palace of the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II at Kalhu, which is now called Nimrud, says Aymen Jawad, executive director of Iraq Heritage, a London-based organization dedicated to preserving Iraq’s antiquities. “Tablets, manuscripts and cuneiforms are the most common artifacts being traded, and, unfortunately, this is being seen in Europe and America,” he says. “Hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of irreplaceable pieces are being sold to fund terrorists.”

Those living near Nimrud tried to stop ISIS forces from entering the palace, but they were overpowered, says al-Hamdani, who also works for the Iraqi government’s Department of Antiquities. “ISIS went into the palace and took a bas-relief that weighed more than 3 to 4 tons,” he says. “They could not take the whole piece, so they cut it up and sold it.”

The largest of the black markets for Mesopotamian antiquities is in Turkey, which serves as the main conduit for ancient Middle East artifacts bound for Europe, says al-Hamdani. The second largest antiquities black market is selling to tourists in Jordan.

“They are smuggling the artifacts via Turkey, Iran and Syria,” Jawad told Newsweek. “Some of the tablets are as small as a matchbox, so smuggling them is such an easy task. However, some of our men on the ground have informed us some large items have been transported by truck.” To his dismay, some of the artifacts are reaching Western auction houses, he said, which “is ridiculous.”

A single Mesopotamian artifact can fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars, as evidenced by the sale in April of a cuneiform baked clay cylinder of Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II dating from 604 B.C. to 562 B.C., which sold for $605,000 to an anonymous buyer, according to Doyle New York auctioneers.

The specialist in charge of the sale, Edward Ripley-Duggan, told Newsweek auction houses have to be more vigilant to ensure historic pieces are “free from taint” in light of the artifacts being “looted in the recent conflicts in the Middle East.” If he had not been able to establish sales receipts and letters from sellers for the cylinder dating back to 1953, he says, he would not have sold it, nor would an honest collector buy it. “It seems to me any lower level of scrutiny is improper at a time when the wholesale destruction and pillaging of archaeological sites and museums in the region is rampant.” Even so, al-Hamdani says, ancient artifacts will always be a magnet for unscrupulous buyers.

“You cannot hide such unique artifacts forever,” he says. “These antiquities cannot be confused with those of any other period in history. They will be recognized on sight. But once a private collector gets it, he can falsify documents, say it was inherited from a family member. It is hard for us to imagine how paperwork like this can be faked, but these are rich people. They can do it.”

Ancient objects may be the most lucrative things to sell, but ISIS is not picky; it is also happy to sell stolen wheat, barley, rice, livestock—even people.

Kidnappings for Cash

When ISIS fighters swept through northern Iraq over the summer toward Erbil, they requisitioned silos and grain stockpiles and took control of farms and fields. As a result, ISIS now controls nine grain silos in Nineveh, which spans the Tigris, and seven more elsewhere. It owns hundreds of thousands of tons of wheat representing 40 percent of Iraq’s annual wheat production, according to U.N. estimates, which allows ISIS to reward those it favors with food while leaving hungry those it does not.

Then there is the ISIS market in human lives. Ransoms from kidnappings make up about 20 percent of ISIS’s revenue, says Integrity’s Jiyad. The U.S. Treasury estimates ISIS has received $20 million in ransoms so far this year. If a ransom is paid, the person is freed—if not, he or she is killed. Sometimes ISIS forces allow victims to telephone their families to report that they are being tortured, in the hope of raising a large ransom to secure their freedom.

One well-placed Iraqi source based in Qatar told Newsweekthe number of kidnappings of women who were then forced into marriage or sold for sex is around 4,000 Yazidi women and girls—not including children—and “more than that from the Shia-Turkoman minorities.” At a prison in Mosul, girls as young as 14 have been forced to make a choice: convert to Islam and be sold as wives or refuse and be forced into sexual slavery. 

Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to ISIS in Sinjar town, walk towards the Syrian border, on the outskirts of Sinjar mountain, near the Syrian border town of Elierbeh of Al-Hasakah Governorate August 10, 2014. At the time ISIS had killed at least 500 members of Iraq's Yazidi ethnic minority during their offensive in the north. The Islamic State, which has declared a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria, has prompted tens of thousands of Yazidis and Christians to flee for their lives during their push to within a 30-minute drive of the Kurdish regional capital Arbil. RODI SAID/REUTERS

When the families of American journalists Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff were notified that their sons were being held for ransom by ISIS, they were warned by U.S. officials not to pay up because it was illegal. No money changed hands, and the pair were beheaded by ISIS.

“Their deaths were about an economic transaction,” says a British security consultant, who spoke to Newsweek on condition of anonymity as he is still working to free ISIS hostages. “Steve [Sotloff] was not murdered because of religion, or Jim [Foley] or Alan [Henning, a British aid worker] because of politics. It was because ISIS money demands were not met.” (Britons are also forbidden by law to pay ransoms.) There is considerable doubt whether American and British hostages would be released even if money was raised, the purpose of the high prices put on their heads likely reflecting a desire by ISIS to embarrass governments that insist on not paying ransoms.

By contrast, two Spanish journalists held by ISIS were freed in March, and four captive French journalists were released in April. While governments whose citizens have been released will not admit to paying for their citizens’ lives, it is known in hostage-negotiation circles that some European governments do pay.

France is thought to have paid $14 million for the four journalists’ release; Spain is also believed to have paid ISIS ransoms for its journalists. “We do not, absolutely do not, pay for hostages,” a French Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, Alexandre Giorgini, told Newsweek. French President François Hollande has also said this. Yet it is well known among intelligence and defense sources in France and Europe that ransoms for French captives are paid, if not through official government sources then through secret funds, private contributions or family efforts.

There is no consensus on how to deal with ISIS’s demands for ransoms—which is probably why Cohen says that “kidnapping for ransom is one of the most significant terrorist financing threats today.” Nor is there a way of knowing how widespread the practice is. “Any organization’s kidnappings or ransoms [are always kept] very hush-hush,” says the American refugee worker in Iraq. And those closest to freed hostages say they are encouraged by government officials to say nothing of the deals that brought about the release of their relatives. 

‘Gagged by the Government’

The U.S. and U.K. governments have adhered to a two-fold strategy when dealing with ISIS ransom demands: a media blackout and an ironclad refusal to pay. “We maintain this policy not because we are coldhearted,” Cohen said, but because refusing to pay ransoms “makes it less likely that Americans will be taken hostage.” The U.S. has also indicated that paying for hostages to be freed can be interpreted as a breach in legally binding sanctions. 

When the Foleys met in Bayeux, France, last month with the French journalists who had been held with their son in Syria before they were freed, they criticized the U.S.’s and U.K.’s decision as “condemning their citizens to death.” The Foleys claimed they had been threatened with prosecution “three times” by U.S. authorities if they tried to raise ransom money. (The State Department denies this.) Henning’s brother said his family was “gagged by the government” to keep mum about the kidnapping until shortly before Henning’s death.

Kidnapping for ransom isn’t just for foreigners. If ISIS thinks it can get a good payout, it will kidnap people in its own communities, says Jiyad. According to al-Nujaifi, the terrorist group will demand anything from $500 to $200,000 for locals. It is not unheard-of, he said, for the family of a captive to sell its farm and livestock to recover a loved one.

The lootings, ransoms and extortion that go toward funding ISIS’s day-to-day operations provide a steady cash flow, al-Nujaifi says. But “this is nothing compared to what oil trafficking provides.” Indeed, it is the energy assets seized by ISIS that are believed to be the jewel in its crown—and the engine of its mighty war machine.

Which means this is also ISIS’s greatest point of vulnerability.

ISIS’s oil empire stretches across a landmass roughly the size of the U.K. (a quarter of a million square miles) and contains around 300 oil wells in Iraq alone, according to the latest data from the Iraq Energy Institute in Baghdad. Some of the biggest seizures include wells and production facilities in Hamrin, with at least 41 wells, and Ajil, with 76.

Energy assets in the cities of Sfaya, Qaiyara, Najma, Jawan, Qasab, Taza and West Tikrit are all now under ISIS’s control, says al-Khatteeb, who is also director of the Iraq Energy Institute.

At its peak over the summer, ISIS operated around 350 oil wells in Iraq, Al-Khatteeb says. After battling with the Kurdish peshmerga and coming under fire from U.S.-led airstrikes, which began August 8, it lost around 45 of them—including in Ain Zala and Butma—and it torched a few fields as it pulled out. In both locations, the peshmergarecaptured wells with a total output of around 15,000 barrels a day.

Roll Out the Barrels

The remaining wells in Iraq under ISIS control have a combined production capacity of 80,000 barrels a day—a fraction of Iraq’s total production of around 3 million barrels a day. By contrast, ISIS possesses about 60 percent of Syria’s total production capacity, which, before the civil war kicked into high gear, produced around 385,000 barrels a day, according to the Iraq Energy Institute.

ISIS does not appear to have access to working oil pipelines, and it lacks the expertise to maintain its oil fields for any length of time. In Syria, oil fields under its control are more mature, requiring greater extraction skills, compared with the higher-yielding fields in Iraq.

Ransom, looting, extortion, sex trafficking and taking over the Iraqi Central Bank may help fund ISIS’s day-to-day operations, but it is the organization’s energy assets that are believed necessary to refill its war chest—not just by selling oil abroad but to run its tanks and armored personnel carriers.

Which makes ISIS’s oil empire its Achilles’ heel. “ISIS has at least 40,000 fighters and fully armed convoys—we’re talking about hundreds of vehicles—plus, they need to produce enough fuel to satisfy their local populations,” says al-Khatteeb. “That calls for at least 70,000 to 80,000 barrels a day of refined product.” A more comfortable wartime supply, he says, would be even more—around 170,000 to 200,000 barrels a day.

ISIS is able to produce only around a fifth of its oil fields’ total capacity in Iraq and Syria, so ISIS is probably getting help from its oil-rich neighbors, says al-Khatteeb. Cohen has confirmed this, saying that, despite their hostility to ISIS, the Kurds in Iraq, Turkey and Syria have all done deals with ISIS, often through middlemen.

Iraq is bordered by six countries: Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait and Turkey. ISIS moves oil and fuel across some of these borders with tanker trucks for sale beyond its borders. Turkey’s southern corridor, Iraq’s northwestern corridor and Syria’s northeastern corridor all contain crossing points. Iraqi Kurdistan is another favorite conduit for oil and fuel, to be sold to Turkey. The regional Kurdish government in Iraq recently arrested some of its own citizens along with a number of Kurdish politicians and security officials for acting as intermediaries in smuggling out oil and fuel on behalf of ISIS.

“ISIS seems to have zero problems moving fuel across borders,” says al-Khatteeb, observing that airstrikes do not appear to be curbing ISIS’s oil trade. ISIS advances through Iraq this summer led to an initial supply infusion of up to 3 million barrels from the draining of four oil pipelines, with more coming from storage facilities in the parts of Iraq it occupied. Sustained attacks on ISIS’s oil and fuel holdings by the U.S.-led coalition should, however, have uncovered the weaknesses in its fuel supply chain by now, he says. But that has not happened. “If they really had a problem with fuel, by now we would have seen the Iraqi army advancing and pushing them to the border of Turkey,” says al-Khatteeb.

ISIS Agents in Erbil

A complicating factor in trying to seal Iraq’s porous borders has been allowing refugees in while keeping terrorists out. As ISIS rolled across northern Iraq in June, driving hundreds of thousands from their homes, an influx of vehicles from ISIS-occupied Iraq appeared on the streets of Iraqi Kurdistan—with whited-out license plates, says the American refugee worker based in Erbil. She still sees them. “I know that they try to police vehicles that look suspicious, but anything that can let refugees through can potentially let ISIS through,” she says.

By late October, Iraqi Kurdistan was playing host to 860,000 displaced Iraqis and 220,000 Syrian refugees. Its displaced persons population topped 1 million over the summer, with refugees crowding backyards, churches and schools. Citing secret security reports, the refugee worker told Newsweek that ISIS members had infiltrated Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital. “The government isn’t acknowledging it,” she says. “But we know ISIS is here.”

Smuggling fuel is easier in a city like Erbil than smuggling oil. “If you’re smuggling crude oil, you have to smuggle a large quantity of it to get value. It’s not like diamonds,” says Peter Galbraith, a former U.S. ambassador to Croatia who advises the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq. “That’s why it’s better to have a pipeline. Now, if you’re taking a refined product like diesel or some other fuel, then it is possible to transport and sell it in small amounts.”

Just as ISIS middlemen use mobile-messaging platforms like Whatsapp and Kik to coordinate their funding, so apps are used to arrange oil and fuel deliveries. While around 30,000 troops now stand on the Saudi side of the kingdom’s border with Iraq, Turkey, for its part, has struggled to lock down its border with ISIS-held Iraq, which stretches across 770 miles. “They can’t watch all of it,” says al-Khatteeb, who has heard that ISIS is importing refined fuel from Turkey in exchange for crude oil.

An armed motorcade belonging to members of Derna's Islamic Youth Council, consisting of former members of militias from the town of Derna, drive along a road in Derna, eastern Libya October 3, 2014. The group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State on October 3, 2014 local media reported. Picture taken October 3, 2014. REUTERS

“Our best understanding is that [ISIS] has tapped into a long-standing and deeply rooted black market connecting traders in and around the area,” Cohen has said. The U.S. is working “with our partners in the region to choke off cross-border smuggling routes and to identify those involved in smuggling networks.”

All told, ISIS’s oil operations in Iraq and Syria are producing around 50,000 to 60,000 barrels a day as of mid-October, according to IHS, an energy research consultancy based in Englewood, Colorado. That’s a drop in the bucket compared with total global oil production of more than 90 million barrels a day.

Oil sales are providing ISIS with around $2.5 million a day, IHS estimates, but at a discount price. ISIS sells oil at $40 a barrel on average when the world price is currently over $80 a barrel. But airstrikes and the ebb and flow of war have made ISIS oil production and the price of a barrel it can charge fluctuate wildly. “Selling prices range from $25 to $60 a barrel,” IHS reported recently. In other words, depending on whether it’s a good or bad day, ISIS’s oil revenues can vary between $1.5 million and $3.6 million a day.

Apocalypse Now

Even though its oil is of a poorer quality than much of what is on sale in the rest of the world, ISIS can still expect revenues of around $800 million a year, on an annualized basis, according to IHS. Galbraith reckons ISIS may be doing even better than that, particularly in areas of Iraq it occupies where there may be a shortage. “Most of [ISIS oil] appears to be refined locally and going through domestic sales, where they can charge a premium to areas cut off from outside supplies,” he tells Newsweek. The price? Up to $200 a barrel.

“It’s a medieval environment, an apocalyptic environment, where the only people who get the food and the fuel are likely the ones with the money and the guns,” says Michael Knights, an Iraq analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

But while ISIS may currently be doing well, over the medium to long term it faces serious challenges with oil-field maintenance, oil recovery and refining crude oil into fuel. The mega-refinery ISIS would dearly like to seize—the Baiji refinery, 130 miles north of Baghdad—is being successfully defended by the Iraqis and U.S. special forces. As a result, it must rely on its own refineries and roughly hewn “mobile refineries,” which produce poor-quality fuel and process only 300 to 1,000 barrels a day each.

Given how easily they are assembled and disassembled, it is impossible to estimate the number of mobile refineries in areas held by ISIS. U.S. Central Command says it is sending bomber, fighter, attack and remotely piloted aircraft to take out oil-collection equipment, oil tanks, tanker trucks and, in one case, an oil pumping station. But since the campaign began, it has struck only around a dozen mobile refineries. “You destroy a mobile refinery that produces 500 barrels a day? It’s a joke,” an Iraqi energy expert told Newsweek. 

Asked what the impact of airstrikes has been on ISIS’s energy assets so far, U.S. Central Command referredNewsweek to Treasury, which emailed the following statement: “There’s no doubt that airstrikes have had an impact on [ISIS’s] ability to generate and earn revenue, though at this time we do not have formal estimates to share.”

A Lebanese intelligence officer familiar with ISIS’s energy operations told Newsweek that the terrorist group’s oil and fuel sales “have been downgraded by only about 35 percent by the airstrikes, with the loss of being unable to produce oil funds at peak activity.” But, he added, “their refineries are usually mobile and easily reestablished.”

Cohen says it will take some time to block ISIS’s multiple revenue streams, which he describes as “diverse and deep.” However, last month he said he expects to see some impact on the organization’s financial standing in less than 36 months.

Knights says ISIS may suffer from a sharp drop in its revenue well before the U.S. is able to defeat it. “They have a pretty diverse portfolio, but ISIS-controlled areas are slowly cycling downward economically, because you can’t steal from people indefinitely,” he says. “I am not going to say they’ve killed the golden goose, but let’s just say they don’t have a sustainable economic model.” Recent reports indicate that Mosul, the largest city under ISIS control, is experiencing shortages of water, food and kerosene, with the local economy in a state of near collapse.

The Fear Factor

Al-Khatteeb believes keeping such a large population under its sway will eventually take a heavy toll on ISIS’s ability to govern and fight. “I cannot imagine that these 8 million people under ISIS control are happy with their lives or wanting to see them succeed. It seems more likely they are operating out of fear,” he says.

A Brookings analysis of ISIS notes that “in asymmetric conflict, if insurgents survive 12 months of activity, the likelihood of opposition victory increases significantly, but should the conflict perpetuate for at least three years, the chance of insurgent victory begins to diminish and political agreements become more likely.”

Galbraith is pessimistic. His biggest concern is the lack of a ground army powerful enough to defeat ISIS—apart from that of the U.S., whose engagement at ground level has been strictly ruled out by President Barack Obama. “When I look at ISIS, I don’t see them becoming one of the great societies of the Middle East. On the other hand, I don’t see them being defeated either,” he said. “We may be able to contain them, but it is hard to see who is going to overtake them.”


'It Was Never My Intention to Join ISIS': Interview With a Former Member of Islamic State


An Islamic State fighter gestures from a vehicle in the countryside of the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane, October 7, 2014. STRINGER/REUTERS

A former ISIS member going by the pseudonym Sherko Omer tells Newsweekof how he left his native Iraq hoping to join the fight against Assad in Syria, but soon found himself caught up in a horrifying sectarian war, unable to escape.

I come from a privileged family. My father is a successful businessman in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. After I graduated, my father invited me to join the family business but I wanted to help the Syrian people and stop the killings of civilians. It was never my intention to join ISIS.

My parents are practicing ­Muslims and prior to leaving for Syria I regularly went to the mosque for Friday prayers. I never joined a political party or organisation but I had friends who were members of Kurdistan Islamic Group (KIG) – and it was KIG who gave us the contacts in Turkey to go to Syria.

I wanted to fight against a tyrant because that is how the media portrayed the Syrian uprising against Bashar Al-Assad and nobody talked about a sectarian civil war. The Free Syria Army (FSA) fascinated us but now I know they were all extremist Islamists such as Jabhat Al-Nusra and ISIS. 

When the three of us went to ­Turkey in October 2013 most of those who crossed into Syria ended up at ISIS border camps. This is what happened to us. Others were jihadists who knew what was going on and believed that if they died fighting for Allah they would go to heaven; and there were some who had come to join organisations such as the al-Qaida branch in Syria, the Jabhat Al-Nusra.

In the beginning, my friends and I discussed whether or not we could leave, but the ISIS guys were really nice to us. You would never think they would do such horrible things as I witnessed later in Al-Raqqa. We were also scared to leave. There was special training for the suicide squad who trained with suicide belts; and ISIS special squads practised beheadings on animals. When someone questioned the beheadings of animals, ISIS said it was the Islamic way of killing Syrian commanders and criminals who raped women and children and that according to the words of God this is how those criminals should die.

But in Al-Raqqa, everybody ISIS disliked was beheaded. It was nothing to do with regime’s commanders alone. The public executions included civilians of Al-Raqqa who ISIS jihadists thought were not good for the Islamic Caliphate or regarded them as guilty of crimes against God.

At the start, we thought that to leave would be a betrayal because the ISIS men at the camp gave us food, clothes and whatever else we needed. We also thought that if they were fighting against the regime of Syria then we should just join them to save the Syrians.

But when we left the camp and went to A’zaz and I finally ended up Al-Raqqa, everything was different. I witnessed horrible crimes committed by ISIS. I was so stressed in Al-Raqqa that I thought of suicide on several occasions. I wanted to escape but there was no way out. Only when I was deployed to the Kurdish region did the opportunity come to leave and I immediately surrendered to the YPG [National Army of Syrian Kurdistan] forces as they attacked our ISIS camp in the Kurdish city of Serekaniye.

I was held for several months and finally released after all sorts of investigations proved that I had no part in any crimes. I had been assigned to work in as a communication technician but my two friends became ISIS fighters. They were deployed to A’zaz – and both have been confirmed as dead.

While with ISIS, I noticed that the field captains and commanders spoke fluent Turkish. I rarely heard them speak in Arabic. ISIS commanders in Raqqa openly talked about the best foreign jihadists crossing into Syria from Turkey. Once, I heard that some ISIS foreign jihadists had been stopped by the Turkish border guards and police, but such were the ISIS connections that they were soon freed and safely on their way to Syria.

The last time I talked to one of my friends on the telephone, he had had enough of the whole organisation and he too had witnessed ISIS killing innocent people. He said he was scared to make an escape because he had witnessed ISIS publically beheading its own members who had tried to run.

It is difficult to get back to a normal. I have a constant feeling of guilt and shame that I ended up with this organisation in Syria. I tell myself that I had done this or that I could have made it out earlier and I get angry with myself. ISIS is now an inseparable part of my history although I am not and never was an extremist.

I now work at an agriculture project owned by my father. I listen to music, watch TV and read Kurdish literature. It is painful thinking that you were once part of an organisation that carried out genocide against your own people. I have flashbacks and bad dreams. A normal life far from war is all I seek now.

‘ISIS Sees Turkey as Its Ally': Former Islamic State Member Reveals Turkish Army Cooperation


Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Kobane, Turkish army tanks take position on the Turkish side of the border, October 8, 2014. UMIT BEKTAS/REUTERS

A former member of ISIS has revealed the extent to which the cooperation of the Turkish military allows the terrorist group, who now control large parts of Iraq and Syria, to travel through Turkish territory to reinforce fighters battling Kurdish forces.

A reluctant former communications technician working for Islamic State, now going by the pseudonym ‘Sherko Omer’, who managed to escape the group, told Newsweek that he travelled in a convoy of trucks as part of an ISIS unit from their stronghold in Raqqa, across Turkish border, through Turkey and then back across the border to attack Syrian Kurds in the city of Serekaniye in northern Syria in February.

“ISIS commanders told us to fear nothing at all because there was full cooperation with the Turks,” said Omer of crossing the border into Turkey, “and they reassured us that nothing will happen, especially when that is how they regularly travel from Raqqa and Aleppo to the Kurdish areas further northeast of Syria because it was impossible to travel through Syria as YPG [National Army of Syrian Kurdistan] controlled most parts of the Kurdish region.”

Until last month, NATO member Turkey had blocked Kurdish fighters from crossing the border into Syria to aid their Syrian counterparts in defending the border town of Kobane. Speaking to Newsweek, Kurds in Kobane said that people attempting to carry supplies across the border were often shot at.

YPG spokesman Polat Can went even further, saying that Turkish forces were actively aiding ISIS. “There is more than enough evidence with us now proving that the Turkish army gives ISIS terrorists weapons, ammunitions and allows them to cross the Turkish official border crossings in order for ISIS terrorists to initiate inhumane attacks against the Kurdish people in Rojava [north-eastern Syria].”

Omer explained that during his time with ISIS, Turkey had been seen as an ally against the Kurds. “ISIS saw the Turkish army as its ally especially when it came to attacking the Kurds in Syria. The Kurds were the common enemy for both ISIS and Turkey. Also, ISIS had to be a Turkish ally because only through Turkey they were able to deploy ISIS fighters to northern parts of the Kurdish cities and towns in Syria.”

“ISIS and Turkey cooperate together on the ground on the basis that they have a common enemy to destroy, the Kurds,” he added.

While Newsweek was not able to independently verify Omer’s testimony, anecdotal evidence of Turkish forces turning a blind eye to ISIS activity has been mounting over the past month.

Omer, the son of a successful businessman in Iraqi Kurdistan, initially went to Syria to join the Free Syrian Army’s fight against Bashar al-Assad, but found himself sucked in to ISIS, unable to leave. He was given a job as a communication technician, and worked at the ISIS communications bureau in Raqqa.

“I have connected ISIS field captains and commanders from Syria with people in Turkey on innumerable occasions,” said Omer.

“I rarely heard them speak in Arabic, and that was only when they talked to their own recruiters, otherwise, they mostly spoke in Turkish because the people they talked to were Turkish officials of some sorts because ISIS guys used to be very serious when they talked to them.”

Omer was then transferred to a battalion travelling to fight Kurdish forces in Serekaniya, north-eastern Syria, and describes travelling through Turkey in a convoy of trucks, staying at safehouses along the way, before crossing back into Syria at the Ceylanpinar border crossing.

Before crossing the border back into Syria, he says: “My ISIS commander reassured us once again that it was all going to be all right because cooperation had been made with the Turks. He frequently talked on the radio in Turkish.”

“While we tried to cross the Ceylanpinar border post, the Turkish soldiers' watchtower light spotted us. The commander quickly told us to stay calm, stay in position and not to look at the light. He talked on the radio in Turkish again and we stayed in our positions. Watchtower light then moved about 10 minutes later and the commander ordered us to move because the watchtower light moving away from us was the signal that we could safely cross the border into Serekaniye."

Once in Serekaniye, Omer says he surrendered to Kurdish forces when they attacked his camp. He was held for several months before his captors were convinced that he had not been a fighter in ISIS and had not taken part in violence.

Al Jazeera Caught Recycling Dead Kid Pics to Slander Egypt After Bombing of ISIS Positions in Libya

by Patrick Poole

February 16, 2015

Qatar’s Al Jazeera network got their hands caught in the proverbial felafel jar today when it recycled pictures of dead children from an accident months ago, claiming they were killed in Egypt’s overnight bombing of ISIS positions in Derna, Libya.

The pictures were posted on both the Al Jazeera website and their Facebook page. The picture has been changed on their website and the Facebook post has been removed, but I did screen capture the Facebook posting:


Several sharp-eyed watchers picked up on Al Jazeera’s image recycling:

الجزيرة تنشر صورة ملفقة قديمة لحادث اختناق أطفال على أنها نتيجة الغارات المصرية ب#ليبيا .

— إسلام الديب (@Deebo250) February 16, 2015

That hasn’t prevented others from repeating Al Jazeera’s claims that 40-50 women and children were killed in the overnight airstrikes:

من 40 الي 50 قتيل طفل ونساء كانوا نائمين ليبين اتقتلوا في طبرق – طيب الفيديو مصورمصريين اتقتلوا في طرابلس (غرب…

— مصطفي ابو العدل (@mostafaaboadll) February 16, 2015

Egyptian Twitter users were quick to express frustration with the network’s ongoing information war against Egypt:

Want to know why Egyptians hate AJ? here you go, it's using old pics of kids claiming they were killed by Egypt army

— Mina Fayek (@minafayek) February 16, 2015

Al Jazeera using an old pic of a dead kid, claiming he was killed by Egypt airstrikes in Libya. #Low V @minafayek

— The Big Pharaoh (@TheBigPharaoh) February 16, 2015

Since the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi in Egypt after the massive June 30, 2013 protests, many in the Middle East have grown to see Al Jazeera not as a news network but as an information warfare arm of the State of Qatar and their owner, Qatar’s ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

In December, AlJazeera shut down its Egyptian channel in an effort to smooth relations between Egypt and Qatar.

The tension between the two states could be seen in the international protests devoted to the cause of three Al Jazeera employees that had been jailed in the wake of the June 30th revolution on charges of attempting to undermine the new Egyptian government.

While whole news organizations dedicated themselves to the Al Jazeera employees’ release, highlighted by the #FreeAJStaff hashtag, there was little discussion that Egyptian authorities had repeatedly warned Al Jazeera that they were not properly licensed to broadcast out of the country.

All three of the Al Jazeera employees have recently been released. Peter Greste, an Australian citizen, was released and deported on February 1st. The other two employees, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were released last week on $33,000 (US) bail.

And yet when Fahmy and Mohamed were released, despite more than a year of agitation directed at Egypt for their employees’ release, the network refused to pay their bail:

"@MFFahmy11 was highly critical of his Qatari-based employer, @AlJazeera, which he said did not pay for his bail."

— سلطان سعود القاسمي (@SultanAlQassemi) February 15, 2015

Even after his release, Mohamed Fahmy admits that his case wasn’t entirely about free expression, but rather Qatar’s weaponizing Al Jazeera against its perceived international enemies:

Their arrest came against the backdrop of deteriorating ties between Cairo and Doha, which backed the Muslim Brotherhood government of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

Morsi was ousted by then army chief Sisi in July 2013.

“This case is partly about freedom of expression … however there is also a part of the case that is an ongoing cold war and score settling between Qatar and Egypt,” Fahmy said.

That more of an admission than you would hear from most U.S. establishment media outlets.


Wesley Clark: "Our friends and allies funded ISIS to destroy Hezbollah"


Interview With Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Wesley Clark; President Obama Requests Authority for War On ISIS

Aired February 11, 2015


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hour two. You're with me here on CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

We're minutes away from hearing from President Barack Obama, who will speak on something that actually has not been done in 13 years. He's asking Congress to authorize a war and specifically authorize military force on ISIS, which, of course, begs the question, isn't the U.S. already dropping bombs on ISIS? You know the answer to that. That's yes.

For six months, the U.S. has been doing that. But think about it this way. The president has the ability to start using military force, which he has been doing in both Iraq and Syria, but he cannot keep using that military force indefinitely or without getting that OK from Congress to continue doing so.

But before authorizing anything, Congress wants three key questions answered. Let me run through this for you. One, how long will this war take? The president now says three years. Geographically, where will this war happen, number two? Answer, unsure, but the battlefield will not be restricted to Iraq and Syria. And, three, what exactly is the scope of the U.S. involvement?

Well, no boots on the ground, specifically no enduring offensive ground combat operations. We're going to a little bit talk more about that and what we should expect from the president in just a moment.

BALDWIN: I'm now joined by General Wesley Clark, former NATO supreme allied commander.

So good to see you, sir, and author of "Don't Wait For the Next War."

Back to the fact we're waiting for the president. I was talking to our White House correspondent at the top of the last hour, Jim Acosta, and he was actually pressing in the daily briefing about what will we hear from the president and he was asking if his message will intentionally be fuzzy, his language he used. That's part of the problem. The president hasn't been clear on his strategy on this war. Do you think we will have a clear message?

WESLEY CLARK, FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: I think you will see greater clarity than we have seen in the past.

BALDWIN: Greater clarity.

CLARK: Greater clarity. Look, the president in terms of what we're doing against ISIS is going to put in or has put in already this going to Congress to ask for legal permission to get the authorization to use force. And that's a necessary step, because we don't know where the battle with ISIS is going to go.

It's pretty clear that you can't do it with airpower alone. We want the coalition members on the ground to provide the ground forces. It's pretty clear that they need some help, like maybe close air support from the United States. You can't get that without putting some special forces troops up with them.

BALDWIN: Do you think that at this point we will hear that?


CLARK: I think you will hear something that will point in that direction.

BALDWIN: But nothing specifically as far as ground combat troops?

CLARK: I don't think you will hear the introduction of ground combat troops. I certainly hope we won't because I don't think the situation justifies it.

I think our previous experience in the region indicates that that is not really the right way to solve this issue.

BALDWIN: OK. What about how -- they're not putting any geographic limits to this battle on the table. What would that tell you about any kind of intelligence the president and the Pentagon would have as far as ISIS in let's say neighboring countries?

CLARK: I think that it's important to leave the geography flexible at this point.

We know what we're doing in Iraq. We have been a little inhibited in Syria. We have got some major geopolitical questions to address. For example, if you get rid of ISIS in Syria through massive work militarily, then where does that leave us with Bashar Assad? There's no answer to that.


CLARK: And on the other hand, you don't want to cooperate with Bashar Assad, the Iranians, Hezbollah and the Russians, because they're not our friends either. So you're in a little bit of a dilemma on that and we need to leave that kind of fuzzy on this.

But we need the authorization to follow the leads and put the troops in and play this. Look, ISIS got started through funding from our friends and allies, because as people will tell you in the region, if you want somebody who will fight to the death against Hezbollah, you don't put out a recruiting poster and say sign up for us. We will make a better world.

You go after these zealots and you go after these religious fundamentalists. That's who fights Hezbollah.

BALDWIN: General, I'm hearing you on...

CLARK: It's like a Frankenstein.

BALDWIN: I'm hearing you on keeping Syria fuzzy. But they have been very clear in wanting to destroy and dismantle ISIS. That's not fuzzy to me at all. The question would be if they wipe out is in Syria, which is the goal, then what with Bashar al-Assad? There has to be a plan for that phase.

CLARK: Yes. Well, some things you can't exactly plan that clearly because you're dealing in the realm of politics. Part of it is, can you get the Russians to withdraw their support from Bashar Assad? How would you do that?

Well, you're dealing with the Russians in Ukraine right now and they're not being helpful.

BALDWIN: No, they're not.

CLARK: In fact, from Putin's perspective, he probably sees it as the opposite play. He says that because the Americans need us to help on Iran, because they don't have a ground force in Syria, they're actually relying on us and therefore we can push Ukraine further and the Americans won't stop us because they're afraid they will lose our cooperation elsewhere in the world.

He's playing it that way. This is difficult. You can't always lay everything out linearly in advance. But you do have to get the authorization to use ground troops in there because you don't want people to say -- on the other side say, I have no problems. The Americans can't possibly get here because they are prohibited.

I would like it to be pretty wide open in terms of geographic limits. I think the president recognizes he's going to need to put some people working more closely forward with the ground troops. I think we have found through our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan that you have to have governments to solve this problem.

Just going out and killing people, that doesn't solve the problem. The governance can't be done by the United States.


BALDWIN: I'm glad you brought up Putin. I was talking to Mikheil Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia, the other day and he was saying to me Putin is loving this that so much of the U.S.'s eye is on the ball on Iraq and Syria and perhaps that's one of the reasons why he's taking advantage it seems of what's happening.


CLARK: There's no doubt about it.

BALDWIN: No doubt. General Wesley Clark, thank you. Appreciate it.

CLARK: Thank you.

BALDWIN: By the way, President Obama is expected to speak in just about 20 minutes. Of course, we will bring that to you live as soon it begins.


Scoundrels & gangsters at UN: Silencing the Syrian narrative

Eva Bartlett is a freelance journalist and rights activist who has lived in the Gaza Strip since late 2008.

Published: February 04, 2015
United Nations General Assembly in New York (Reuters / Eric Thayer)
United Nations General Assembly in New York (Reuters / Eric Thayer)
Syria's Ambassador to the UN, Dr. Bashar al-Ja'afari, was sworn in as Permanent Special Representative in 2006. Yet, in spite of his thirty plus years as a diplomat, his being highly-educated and multi-lingual, and the fact that he is the UN's official Representative of the state of Syria, the United Nations has little interest in hearing what he has to say. Not only do they lack interest, since the Western-NATO-Israeli-Gulf war on Syria began in early 2011, they actively work to silence him or distort his words.“Welcome to the United Nations. It's your world,” reads the UN logo. Apparently, however, there are limitations as to just how “welcome” some of its representatives are.

The UN has pulled endless stunts on Syria's Ambassador, with the obvious intent of distorting reality and prolonging the proxy war on Syria.

Ambassador al-Ja'afari maintains that he is routinely assigned the worst translators, to convolute his message. “Every time I speak at the Security Council (SC), they choose a bad interpreter who is not able to fully interpret what I am saying,” he said. On one occasion at the SC, the Syrian Ambassador said he saw a staff member signal to the interpreters to switch the adept interpreter for the inept. “I saw it with my own eyes. They changed the interpreter to a poor one.”

Ambassador al-Ja'afari is one of the only—if not the only—ambassadors to the UN to repeatedly over the years have his microphone and/or video feed cut when he speaks.

Correspondent Nizar Abboud has been an invaluable source of footage of the Syrian Ambassador's speeches otherwise unavailable thanks to cut UN feeds. Abboud says the cuts are not due to “technical problems,” but instead often done “by senior officials at the United Nations.” Of one such incident, Abboud said: “The journalists were furious about it, they wanted to hear what the Ambassador was saying and suddenly he went off air.”

Matthew Lee, a journalist with Inner City Press (ICP), reported on an April 5, 2012 feed cut, noting that the speeches of the then “Special Envoy for Syria,” Kofi Annan, as well as the (Qatari) President of the General Assembly (GA) and Ban Ki-moon were all broadcast on UN television. However, “just as Syria's Permanent Representative Bashar Ja'afari took the floor to respond, UN TV went dark. When the session was over several Permanent Representatives were critical of what they called 'the PGA's use of the UN for Qatar's foreign policy.'

Later that day, in a press conference, Ambassador al-Ja'afari addressed the feed cut, additionally noting that the President of the General Assembly had orchestrated, “a session where only the Ambassador of Saudi Arabia spoke, plus Kofi Annan.” He noted that other ambassadors were not invited to speak, and that “the purpose of the meeting was how to defame the reputation of Syria, not to help stop the violence in Syria.”

On June 7, 2012, UN TV again cut as Ambassador Ja'afari spoke in the GA, following a request he had attempted to make in April, “to observe a minute of silence, in order to mourn the death of victims in my country.”

The Syrian Ambassador was again cut out of the feed on June 18, 2014. ICP's Lee reported that on June 20 he was told by the same Dujarric regarding the June 7 cut that (in Lee's words), “in fact the error in 2012 was been (sic) to allow Ja'afari to speak AT ALL on UN TV. He said the arrangement was that Ban and the Qatari PGA could speak, then the UN TV was supposed to go off.”

Following the June 2014 Syrian elections, international representatives who had observed the elections in Syria convened at the UN to report back. Roughly five minutes in, after Ambassador al-Ja'afari had opened the meeting and thanked the Secretariat for facilitating it, the webcast feed was cut. Ironically, the Ambassador had stressed he wanted to leave “enough time to give you the right picture of the Syrian landscape that was prevailing during elections. They are eyewitnesses.”

Witnesses not meant to be heard.

Thanks to independent footage, the meeting was still recorded. Panelists spoke of the massive turnout to vote, first for two full days in Lebanon, and then in Syria. They noted the turnouts in important cities like Homs (the media-dubbed so-called “capital of the 'revolution'”), and the enthusiasm of voters who faced threats of mortar and missile attacks by Western-backed armed groups. They spoke of the average Syrians they had met during the elections and the ardent support for both the President and the Syrian army.

The UN is consistently determined to silence the Syrian narrative. In January, 2014, at the Geneva II conference on Syria in Montreux, Switzerland, Foreign Affairs Minister Walid Muallem was himself cut off by none other than the Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon.

Pointing out the ridiculousness of the situation, Muallem noted: “You live in New York, I live in Syria. I have the right to give the Syrian version in this forum. After three years of suffering, this is my right. You spoke for 25 minutes. I need at least 30.” While Ban interrupted Muallem's speech, asking him to “wrap up in just one or two minutes,” the Syrian Minister refused to be silenced and did eventually finish his speech.

What is the UN afraid of hearing?

Ambassador al-Ja'afari is clever with his words. In May, 2014, speaking at the UNSC, where the French Ambassador had without any substantiated reasons suggested Syria be referred to the ICC, the Ambassador remarked:

“Mr. President, some member states introducing this draft resolution while dealing with the Syrian situation remind me of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Those states are trying to impersonate the role of Dr. Jekyll, the good man, by promoting noble principles, while in reality they represent Mr. Hyde, the evil man. This evil role is manifested through their involvement in backing terrorism in Syria and contributing to the continuation of Syrian bloodshed, while shedding crocodile tears over bloodshed in Syria. The hands of Mr. Hyde are stained with Syrian blood, although he falsely claims his friendship for the Syrian people.”

Ambassador al-Ja'afari is one of a small number of representatives at the UN who dare to call out the House of Saud and other corrupt monarchies, as well as Israel and Turkey, for their role in funding and training terrorists in Syria. He also corrects and reprimands UN representatives when they intentionally use loaded lexicon to discuss the Syrian government and reality, to distort understanding.

In an Orlando, Florida panel, in July 2013, he likewise warned the audience against falling into the trap of using the misleading terminology used against Syria by media and political representatives. “How can you call them 'jihadists' when what they are doing is not from Islam? When they attack Syrians, then escape into Israel and are treated in Israeli hospitals,” he noted, clarifying “terrorists” not “jihadists” is the appropriate term. He encouraged Syrian-Americans to feel and act as ambassadors of Syria, also reminding them that they are part of the fabric of American culture. Unlike the anti-Syrian bloc, he stressed the need for discussion. “Rupture and the absence of dialogue doesn't serve anyone, it deepens the misunderstanding. Dialogue is very important.”

In a similar Los Angeles panel, in December 2013, he received a standing ovation, Ikhras news reported. Many in the Syrian-American community want to hear his voice.

And so it was that, in March 2014, the Ambassador was slapped with a travel ban. US Department of State spokesperson, Jen Psaki, reluctantly admitted to having informed him that “he is restricted to a 25 mile travel radius. I’m not in a position to comment any further on it.”

When I met with Dr. al-Ja'afari in his New York office in January 2015, I asked why he thought he had been restricted. His answer was that they didn't like his activism, which was meeting with the very people he represents and “explaining to them what's going on in Syria. They needed information; they needed to be briefed about what's going on in their homeland. They are all extremely worried, they have families there,” he said.

Ignoring international law & abandoning ship

The UN is being used as a vehicle for the US and allies to justify their illegal airstrikes and intervention in Syria. The November 2014 resolution A/C.3/69/L.31 on Syria is a litany of unsubstantiated rhetoric against the sovereign state of Syria.

At no point in the seven pages of vitriol does the resolution condemn or express outrage at the states supplying and enabling terrorists and their attacks within Syria. Nor does it condemn Israel's repeated violations of Syria's borders and providing medical and material support to terrorists. The resolution further fails to address, much less condemn, Israel's repeated bombing of Syrian territory.

The Syrian Ambassador to the UN has repeatedly noted the meetings of US representatives with terrorists in Syria. Michel Chossudovsky, Director of the Centre for Research on Globalization in Montreal, likewise noted these glaring violations:

“There is a list of terrorist organizations, which is made up by the State Department and John Kerry is negotiating, interfacing, with representatives of that terrorist organization, and the same thing is true for John McCain when he crosses into Syria, and the same thing is true with regard to the former ambassador to Syria Robert Steven Ford, who is also supporting these terrorists. So in other words these Western officials should be arrested on anti-terrorist charges because they are in violation of international law.”

Along the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, UN Disengagement Observer Forces (UNDOF) stationed along the 1974 demarcation line are mandated to:

“Maintain the ceasefire between Israel and Syria; Supervise the disengagement of Israeli and Syrian forces; and Supervise the areas of separation and limitation, as provided in the May 1974 Agreement on Disengagement.”

Yet, UNDOF routinely fails to observe or report violations such as terrorists crossing to and from the Israeli side. One recent example, noted by Nizar Abboud on January 19, 2015, was the Israeli assassination of Hezbollah and Iranian resistance in Quneitra, Syria on January 18.

To Abboud's question on the silence of the UN, Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General, replied that the details were “murky” and merely implored all sides to “exercise restraint.” Haq cited UNDOF having observed two UAVs flying from Israel into Syrian territory, smoke billowing from a post in Syrian territory, and UAVs returning to the Israeli side. But UNDOF could not identify the origin of the smoke, he said.

Ambassador al-Ja'afari with Syrian-Americans at an exhibition at the UN. Photo by Eva Bartlett

Earlier, in a September 16, 2014 press conference, following UNDOF soldiers' abandonment of their posts, the Syrian Ambassador criticized the “total inaction by all those who are responsible for the lives of UNDOF forces soldiers as well as for fulfilling the mandate of UNDOF, in accordance with the disengagement forces agreement of 1974.”

He noted the presence of al-Nusra along most of the Syrian side of the line of demarcation, and the sudden evacuation of UNDOF forces from the Syrian side, “in violation of the mandate, and without prior consultations with the Syrian government.” To the Ambassador's knowledge, the Chief Commander of UNDOF had, “ordered the Filipinos to surrender and give up their weapons to the terrorist groups,”noting that the Chief of the Filipino army had in contrast ordered them “not to surrender and not to give up their weapons.”

The surrender of the Fijian UNDOF forces' weapons, uniforms, and vehicles, according to Ambassador al-Ja'afari, enabled al-Nusra and company to “take over UNDOF forces' positions, and created by doing so a kind of 'safe zone' for the terrorists to operate against the Syrian army and civilians,” using United Nations cars, uniforms, weapons, and locations.

Ambassador al-Ja’afari maintains that the UN's Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) routinely accuses the Syrian army of “violating the disengagement forces agreement” when fighting against terrorists in the ceasefire area, but hypocritically does not call on the Israelis, Qataris, Saudis, Jordanians, or Turks to stop enabling terrorists to infiltrate into the area. “They forgot that resolution 2170 spoke about ISIS and Jebhat al-Nusra, not only about ISIS,” the Syrian Ambassador said.

In a November 2014 report, the Secretary-General mentioned the presence of al-Nusra and other terrorists in the ceasefire area “unloading weapons from a truck,” as well as a “vehicle with a mounted anti-aircraft gun” and Israeli “interactions” with “armed gangs.” Nonetheless, he went on to condemn strongly the Syrian army's presence, offering no alternative solution to how to fight against those who fire on Syrian army and civilians from within the UNDOF-deserted area.

In his September press conference, Ambassador al-Ja'afari had warned of the possibility of terrorists and Israelis further infiltrating into Syria and “starting a war of attrition against the Syrian army” with no UNDOF forces to witness. There would be “nobody to, even theoretically speaking, brief the Security Council and the DPKO about what's going on in the Golan.”

When the real human rights abuses of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Israel, and Turkey are so amply-documented, and yet the house of Saud is sponsoring the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre, the nefarious nature of the UN is crystal clear.

The Qatari, Saudi, British, French and other ambassadors to the UN are joined in their ‘gangsterism’ by none other than the US Ambassador to the UN, the same Samantha Power who was “one of the chief influences behind the Obama administration’s decision to intervene militarily in the Libyan conflict in 2011.” In September 2014, Power unabashedly stated that the US' training of terrorists was to impose a change of government in Syria. “The training also will service these troops in the same struggle that they've been in since the beginning of this conflict against the Assad regime,” she said on NBC.

As for the UN, as Ambassador al-Ja'afari said: “There's no United Nations anymore, it's over. Multilateral diplomacy is not working; it's being manipulated by the powerful. This is why they want to privatize the United Nations, so that the influential donors can control the decision-making mechanisms, without giving a damn about the provisions of the Charter.”

The UN, American and world leaders, and the corporate media attempt to stifle the Syrian narrative, to allow only the mainstream media's manufactured narrative on Syria, which runs contrary to the reality on the ground in Syria. Many continue to naively believe that the UN can or will do anything positive for Syria (and Palestine), yet its corruptness and servitude to global wars and imperialism is blindingly evident.