Editorial: Blood & Bookkeeping - IS In The Fiscal Crescent

Tim Haïdar

"Never call an accountant a credit to his profession; a good accountant is a debit to his profession." - Charles Lyell (1797 – 1875)

In the Fertile Crescent, the rivers ran increasingly red as US troops incurred into Syria with their first declared special forces operation. A senior but little-known Islamic State (IS) leader, Abu Sayyaf, was reportedly killed in the raid on a compound near the Al-Omar oil field in Deir ez-Zor, Syria’s seventh largest city.

Dubbed the "Emir of Oil and Gas" and referred to as IS’s "Oil Minister", Abu Sayyaf was, purportedly, the man who officiated over the trade of black market hydrocarbons across the insurgent state.

In July 2014, at the apogee of its powers and with crude prices at highs of $113, IS was making $45 every second from the oil and gas assets under its control. Since the beginning of US-led intervention in August 2014, surgical airstrikes have greatly restricted the amount of control IS has over resources in both Syria and Iraq, but the flow and demand for cut price oil has far from dried up. Black market trading of crude oil and crude oil products has been rife since the days of Saddam, when the majority of this contraband made its way across the northern and eastern borders to Turkey and Iran respectively.

Whether taking Abu Sayyaf out of the picture will fundamentally cripple the smuggling of oil for profit is debatable. His less prominent position as a moneyman and not a military tactician would suggest that he might be more replaceable in his function than others: the difference between hiring a fresh account rather than drafting a new general.

That said, behind every criminal cooperative there sits, abacus in hand, a proficient number cruncher. The Cosa Nostra, for example, would not have been the financial juggernaut it became without the cool hand of Meyer Lansky at the tiller and in the ledger.

Time alone will tell whether the demise of Abu Sayyaf will entrain a collapse in fiscal self-sufficiency of the world’s richest jihadist group. With the Iraqi government needing $18 billion in 2015 to bankroll its struggle with IS, both sides of the war on terror will be hoping their bean counters can balance the books….

Tim Haðdar is the Editor In Chief at Oil & Gas IQ. Reach Him At Twitter Or OGIQ


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