National Security & Defense

The State of the Islamic State: Strong

(Photo Illustration: NRO)

Nearly $50 million a month: According to the AP, that’s what the Islamic State (ISIS) earns in monthly oil revenues. Yet while some analysts say ISIS’s oil earnings are lower, the group raises revenue from other sources as well. Although the United States coalition has waged war on ISIS for more than a year now, the group’s financial stability proves that it remains strong.

Still, as happened last December — before ISIS captured Ramadi, and before the Islamic State metastasized across the planet — an increasing chorus of voices are claiming that the Islamic State has lost its strategic initiative. This is untrue.

Take Syria’s eastern Deir ez-Zor governorate, which is ISIS-controlled territory that is crucial for the group’s domination of Syria’s Sunni tribes, oil production, and supply lines into Iraq. ISIS expert Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi recently researched ISIS documents related to the governorate’s revenue streams and found that oil and gas account for 27.7 percent of IS revenue; taxes, 23.7 percent; electricity, 3.9 percent; and a massive 44.7 percent comes from “confiscations.” As al-Tamimi notes, these confiscations are highly variable and include traffic fines, asset seizures, and an array of fees. Joined to the ISIS energy industry, these revenues make for a strong financial foundation. Al-Tamimi’s research also tells us where ISIS spends its revenue:19.8 percent goes to base expenditures; 2.8 percent to media operations; 10.4 percent to Islamic policing; 17.7 percent to public services; 5.7 percent to discretionary aid; and 43.6 percent to fighter salaries.

#share#Consider two of these statistics again. Namely, that (at least in Deir ez-Zor) 44.7 percent of ISIS’s revenue comes from confiscations, and 43.6 percent of ISIS’s money pays for fighter salaries. They basically equal each other. This correlation teaches us something important: The Islamic State’s bureaucracy is both a product and a source of its military capability. The bureaucracy would not exist if ISIS had not captured so much territory. In turn, its territorial gains provide an immense revenue stream, thus allowing the group to continue its jihad.

Things are unlikely to change soon. Recapturing major cities such as Ramadi and Mosul continues to be a daunting, complex task for the Iraqi government. Moreover, the success on the ground of the Islamic State only reinforces ISIS’s recruitment propaganda about death and domination for the sake of an “ordained” cause. However perverse, this propaganda has powerful appeal with some young Muslims angered by economic stagnation under the rot of political Islam.

#related#However we measure it, the Islamic State retains a great deal of power. And while we need a new strategy to confront the state (here’s my proposal), we must also accept that ISIS now pursues transnational ambitions — including against the United States. As a consequence, any pretension that the ISIS threat has declined is a grave error. Indeed, if Russia and Iran continue to push Syria toward a battle between Assad and ISIS, ISIS will only grow stronger.

After all, between ISIS and Assad, many Syrian Sunnis will choose ISIS.

Tom Rogan is a writer, a panelist on The McLaughlin Group, and a fellow at the Steamboat Institute. Follow him on Twitter at TomRtweets. His homepage is tomroganthinks.com.

Tom Rogan is a columnist for National Review Online, a contributor to the Washington Examiner, and a former panelist on The McLaughlin Group. Email him at TRogan@McLaughlin.com

Most Popular

How to Avoid a China-Led World Order

As the COVID-19 crisis has unfolded, it has opened our eyes to China’s rapidly expanding role in the international order and global economy. Beijing’s outsize role in the World Health Organization has come under attack, as has the muscular diplomacy used by China’s foreign ministry in responding to ... Read More

How to Avoid a China-Led World Order

As the COVID-19 crisis has unfolded, it has opened our eyes to China’s rapidly expanding role in the international order and global economy. Beijing’s outsize role in the World Health Organization has come under attack, as has the muscular diplomacy used by China’s foreign ministry in responding to ... Read More
Immigration

The Party’s Over — No More Guest(worker)s

Last month's Presidential Proclamation temporarily suspending a tiny sliver of permanent immigration in response to Great Depression 2.0 also called for a review of the alphabet soup of foreign-worker programs. The relevant cabinet departments were instructed to offer recommendations "to stimulate the United ... Read More
Immigration

The Party’s Over — No More Guest(worker)s

Last month's Presidential Proclamation temporarily suspending a tiny sliver of permanent immigration in response to Great Depression 2.0 also called for a review of the alphabet soup of foreign-worker programs. The relevant cabinet departments were instructed to offer recommendations "to stimulate the United ... Read More
World

Hong Kong, All Alone

China is currently transgressing the terms of its 1997 treaty over Hong Kong, which promised a “one country, two systems” settlement that preserved Hong Kong’s somewhat autonomous democratic institutions. These institutions guarantee rights to Hong Kongers and guard its common-law inheritance. China’s ... Read More
World

Hong Kong, All Alone

China is currently transgressing the terms of its 1997 treaty over Hong Kong, which promised a “one country, two systems” settlement that preserved Hong Kong’s somewhat autonomous democratic institutions. These institutions guarantee rights to Hong Kongers and guard its common-law inheritance. China’s ... Read More
Elections

Against Jo Rae Perkins

On Tuesday, Jo Rae Perkins won the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Oregon. The Oregon GOP says it will back her candidacy notwithstanding her associations with the “QAnon” movement. That’s a mistake. Perkins is an unreconstructed exponent of a batty and corrosive conspiracy theory running a ... Read More
Elections

Against Jo Rae Perkins

On Tuesday, Jo Rae Perkins won the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Oregon. The Oregon GOP says it will back her candidacy notwithstanding her associations with the “QAnon” movement. That’s a mistake. Perkins is an unreconstructed exponent of a batty and corrosive conspiracy theory running a ... Read More
U.S.

Unsustainable America

Americans are having fewer babies than ever, or at least than since the government began tracking the general fertility rate in 1909. The total fertility rate ticked down to 1.7 in 2019, meaning that the average number of babies an American woman would have over her lifetime is well below replacement ... Read More
U.S.

Unsustainable America

Americans are having fewer babies than ever, or at least than since the government began tracking the general fertility rate in 1909. The total fertility rate ticked down to 1.7 in 2019, meaning that the average number of babies an American woman would have over her lifetime is well below replacement ... Read More

The Makings of Modern Madness

The paradigm of mind–brain dualism, like the story of syphilis, is by no means virgin territory. However, Allan Ropper and Brian Burrell’s How The Brain Lost Its Mind: Sex, Hysteria, and the Riddle of Mental Illness puts both the legacy of dualism and the story of syphilis under the microscope, and offers a ... Read More

The Makings of Modern Madness

The paradigm of mind–brain dualism, like the story of syphilis, is by no means virgin territory. However, Allan Ropper and Brian Burrell’s How The Brain Lost Its Mind: Sex, Hysteria, and the Riddle of Mental Illness puts both the legacy of dualism and the story of syphilis under the microscope, and offers a ... Read More