The True Cost of the War on ISIS Oil

Jeff Edwards

Updated November 24, 2015

Despite the constant barbarism put on display by ISIS over the past year and a half, I am of the opinion that the world has become somewhat apathetic to the idea of ISIS dominating the region.

Reporting from the War in Syria would rarely dominated the news cycle, and it looked like the media had reached a point where they might quickly pay homage to the war before moving on to what one of the Kardashians was wearing out in public.

But the horrific attacks in Paris changed that, at least for the time being.

So while attention is somewhat peaked at the moment, let’s kick around a few economic implications of a policy shift towards ISIS.

Black Market Oil: Today’s Blood Diamonds

It has never been a secret that individuals, private corporations, and even governments profit from war-torn regions and despotic regimes.

For ISIS, who controls most of the Syrian oil fields and those around Mosul, Iraq, that means easy access to quick cash.

It is reported that ISIS makes up to $50 million a month from illicit oil sales.

And since ISIS is not exactly a standing member of OPEC, it can set its prices as low or as high as is functional for it alone.

For the region, that means access to cheap oil that, once refined, is nearly indistinguishable from that of the rest of the market.

Think of it as the blood diamonds of the Middle East.

Africa has long been subject to conflict, and warlords often financed their rule by flooding the market with these illicitly mined diamonds.

As Western society began to take note of the atrocities being committed by these warlords in Africa, they sought a way to sort out these conflict diamonds from the market. But where there is a will and a dollar to be made, there is a way.

And so it is for ISIS and its blood oil.

In light of the Paris attacks, America has increased its attacks by targeting previously off-limits infrastructure.

In the past week, American A-10 Warthogs and AC-130 gunships have strafed and destroyed around 400 Iraqi oil tanker trucks sitting in queue to transport this illicit oil.

Prior to the strikes, they dropped leaflets essentially telling the drivers to run for their lives — a swell heads up to give the mostly civilian drivers.

We have seen video of the strikes on these tankers, but personally, I think the video of 300 drivers scattering and running for their lives would have been a little more interesting to watch.

But with every action in war, there is a consequence.

Is a Broke ISIS a Dangerous ISIS?

Not that ISIS needs any additional incentive to be dastardly, but the hope in the shifting American policy is that without funds to resupply arms, pay fighters, and eat, the ISIS economy will collapse along with its supposed State.

But what happens to all the refineries and oil fields that ISIS has thus far needed for cash when it can no longer get cash from them?

America has avoided major strikes on these installations under the premise that they will be needed to fund the economy after the war. But if a moderate despot like Saddam Hussein can commit to a scorched earth policy in retreat, why would we expect less from ISIS?

It took months to extinguish most of the Kuwaiti oil well fires during the first Gulf War, with the last one capped nine months after it was set ablaze.

And while the fields controlled by ISIS are not quite as large, one can’t help but wonder what a broke ISIS would do if it were no longer a source of revenue for the Islamic State.

It has already destroyed centuries’ worth of ancient world heritage and murdered and raped countless numbers of innocent women and children. The burning of a few useless oil fields seems quite within its twisted reasoning.

War is a game of constant adaptation, and with the newfound focus and vigilance to wipe out ISIS sooner rather than later, we can’t help but wonder whether we are not about to enter the most devastating phase of this entire conflict.

ISIS will be defeated, but how much Earth will be scorched as it retreats remains to be seen.

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