In remarks last week (hat tip to @HSPI), Treasury official David Cohen confirmed that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria makes $1 million a day from oil sales, that it has made $20 million this year in ransoms, and that it makes millions a month from extortion. Cohen laid out plans to counter each facet of ISIS’s funding.
Cohen also acknowledged that some of Treasury’s tools aren’t well suited to the task of bankrupting ISIS, but noted with some optimism that “Attempting to govern the cities, towns and sprawling territory in Iraq and Syria where it currently operates, much less delivering some modicum of services to the millions of people it seeks to subjugate, is expensive,” and that ISIS would ultimately be unable “to meet the cost of governing.”
To support his argument, Cohen cited a journalist with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who reckons that, although ISIS is well funded, the budgetary demands of controlling such a large territory exceed even their financial resources. ISIS’s revenues may be $1.5 billion annually, but prior Iraqi budgets for the provinces under ISIS’s control exceeded $2.5 billion per year.
ISIS’s potential budget deficits become even starker when one considers that most of its money isn’t spent on public services. Die Welt has reported (hat tip to Puneet) that just one-third of ISIS’s money is spent on providing basic utilities and social services to the population within its territory, while one-third go to salaries for fighters and employees, and one-third is spent on weapons.
So there is hope that ISIS could be taken down a peg financially, but it won’t be through sanctions and monitoring suspicious financial activity: it could come through diplomacy, military action, and by the harsh realities of governance.
(Thanks to Terrorism Watch, El Grillo, and Red Team Red Queen for sending in news coverage of Cohen’s remarks.)