Keith Johnson reports for Foreign Policy:
The militants who have conquered broad swaths of Iraq and Syria are turning to good old-fashioned crime — oil smuggling, in this case — to underwrite its main line of work. The money it can earn from illicit oil sales further bolsters the group’s status as one of the richest self-funded terrorist outfits in the world, dependent not on foreign governments for financial support but on the money its reaped from kidnappings and bank robberies. The group has also managed to steal expensive weaponry that the United States had left for the Iraqi military, freeing it from the need to spend its own money to buy such armaments.
But even the millions of dollars a day that the Islamic State seems to be raking in by trucking stolen oil across porous borders is not enough to meet the hefty obligations created by the group’s own headlong expansion. Taking over big chunks of territory, as in eastern Syria and in northern Iraq, could also leave it forced to take on the sorts of expensive obligations — such as paying salaries, collecting the trash, and keeping the lights on — usually reserved for governments.
The IS/Caliphate certainly faces growing pains in the months and years ahead, assuming it doesn’t collapse under the weight of its own rapid expansion. That said, Iraqis might put up with reduced services, provided the trade-off is for a cleaner government with less corruption. Such as usually been the promise of radical Islamist leaders, and they’ve usually delivered — if only long enough to entrench themselves.
In the meantime, the IS/Caliphate seems to have enough cash coming in to support their current objectives, which are to take Baghdad and to conquer even more oil-rich lands.