ISIS, Turkey, Russia, The U.S. And Oil

One of the things that makes ISIS such a credible threat is how much money they are bringing into their organization. To start, they have been illegally trading oil for years. Then there is the matter of extortion, kidnapping, and taxation over areas under ISIS control.

Over the last two months, coalition and Russian forces have been targeting oil supply lines. Because of this move, they have successfully brought down the amount of oil being sold. Meanwhile, the United States has been reluctant to strike. The problem lies with who is driving the oil trucks and where they are going. While it is true that ISIS profits from the sale of this oil, a large portion of this oil is used by rebels to fight back against ISIS and the Assad regime. This makes it easy for Russia to attack the oil, because it hurts ISIS, hurts the rebels, and helps the Assad government (which they support). The coalition, led by the United States, finds it hard to attack because they don’t want to hurt the rebels efforts.

This article from gave a few more perspectives on what the mindset of the US leadership could be right now:

“So, a possible reason for not decisively interrupting oil operations could include preservation of infrastructure for rebuilding after the conflict. This certainly has precedent, since coalition forces have tried this in Iraq and Afghanistan most recently, and territorial shifts occur rapidly in this current conflict. Consider this a lesson learned from Kuwait in 1991. Another possibility is the US does not want to cause any  environmental damage in the surrounding region, having learned another hard lesson from the First Gulf War. This is possible, but highly unlikely. In the face of open war and killing enemies, it is extremely difficult to imagine any government placing environmental concerns over decisive strikes against an enemy. This approach does not have precedent.”(1)

It seems like the United States is thinking more on a long term big picture perspective, while Russia is trying to fix the problem head on now and deal with the consequences later.

Russia and Turkey are exchanging blows, each saying the other is responsible for funding ISIS by purchasing their oil. However, at this point, it is hard to see exactly where all of the oil is going and especially see who is buying. Yes, Russia has satellite imagery proving that some of the oil made it’s way into Turkey, but many other accusations have been made as well (2). This opinion article from Al-Jazeera explains it very well:

“While such high level accusations may amuse some and certainly sadden many, the grim reality is that black markets have a highly organised and extensive web of shadow partners and clients, who are attracted by the money, irrespective of their nationalities, religious beliefs or principles, if they have any, and are active in Iraq, Syria and Turkey.Investigators may be lucky to identify a couple of individuals or organisations, but it would be naive to believe that such a complex system can be easily exposed. To complicate matters further, it is important to note that not all those involved in the trade fall into that corrupt category. There are the unconventional clients who rely on ISIL’s oil for survival: think of the millions of people living in ISIL-controlled areas who need access to diesel to meet their basic needs for electricity, heating and mobility. Some rebels, ISIL’s own enemies, also ironically fall in that category as they have no other choice. And there are the truck drivers, mostly civilians, who transport ISIL’s oil to smugglers, traders and middlemen and are in desperate need for any source of income. And once the oil and its refined products go beyond ISIL-controlled areas, they become very difficult to trace – someone, somewhere, and completely unknowingly, may well end up burning ISIL oil.”(3)

ISIS has a firm grasp on the area by making their own enemies fund them. The rebels buy oil from ISIS, and so may the Assad regime to keep their own battles going. And while world powers bicker on how to fight them, they continue to become the most well funded terrorist organization in recent history.


  1. Ryan Opsal
  3. Carole Nakhye




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