The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, also known as the Islamic State (IS), aims to create an Islamic state across the Sunni areas of Iraq and Syria. An analysis of the IS’s funding, international networking and mode

of operations appears to point towards the creation of an Islamic state on a much grander scale. The IS has taken a very sustainable approach to an operation that is growing rapidly.

As with all groups similar to the IS, the key lies in the funding. Experts are already calling the group the most superior in recent history in terms of financing. The primary source of funding for the IS comes from the captured oil facilities in northern Iraq and northern Syria. Oil drilled at those facilities is then smuggled through the southern border of Turkey. Due to the comparatively high price of oil in Turkey, finding buyers for the smuggled oil is never a problem. Several reports have stated that the daily income of the IS from oil alone is probably more than US$ 1 million. This number, of course, cannot be verified due to its nature but still serves as an indicator of the magnitude of the operations of the IS.

The oil, however, is not the only source of funding for the IS. It was reported that the IS looted all the banks in Mosul (Iraq) and its surrounding areas, which significantly enhanced their financial situation. Further, reports indicate that in territories captured by the IS, they have adopted a system whereby every person living there is charged and taxed in a manner not too dissimilar to an organized crime syndicate. In addition, there are ever increasing reports which points towards the fact that the IS receives healthy donations from like-minded individuals scattered across the Gulf States.

As you may have noted, the IS is not dependant on a single source of funding. Nor is it in any way dependant on donations, as is the norm with groups similar to the IS. The IS has several streams of revenue in place which are growing rapidly; and will be hard to control as accelerated expansion takes place. The United States, along with coalition forces, has recently launched attacks on the oil facilities of the IS in an attempt to stunt their financial development. There is no denying that this will cause a serious problem for the IS but the IS’s variance in the methods of raising finance is sophisticated enough to allow them to carry on their operations smoothly.

What makes the IS’s financing sustainable is not the looting of banks. Windfalls accrued from looting can only go on for so long and are to be treated as such. The oil operations and the collection of taxes and fees from people living in areas controlled by the IS will regularly provide a stream of revenue for the IS’s operations, especially if they continue to capture and hold increasing territory.

The IS has started to branch out internationally with similar groups across the globe swearing allegiance to the IS. Apart from the groups operating in the Middle East, groups from Malaysia and Philippines, Boko Haram from Africa, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) (the Associated Groups) have all recently sworn allegiance to the IS.

The IS is the first such group in recent history which has garnered so much support from similar groups internationally and is setting a very dangerous precedent in this regard. The groups associated internationally with the IS have nowhere near the level of funding and organisation that the IS can afford. With the IS’s assistance, the operations of the Associated Groups will be significantly enhanced. Financial assistance is one thing, but one feels that what the IS could provide to the Associated Groups in terms of organisation and strategy could potentially be invaluable to their efforts.

It is not currently clear how much support the IS hands out to the Associated Groups presently. Reports indicate that Boko Haram and the IS have been in regular contact over the realisation of Boko Haram’s dream of the establishment of itself as an African caliphate. That would seem to indicate that the IS is willing to positively assist the Associated Groups and one feels that this is something that they will almost certainly aim to do in the near future. What this will result in, ultimately, is the globalisation of the IS to an extent that has not been witnessed in recent history for groups similar to the IS.

The IS has earmarked itself by capturing and holding territories. In the territories it has captured, the IS has set up a system of governance which is an interpretation of how they feel about the running of an Islamic state. The knock-on effect of this, considering the allegiance of the Associated Groups, is that the associated groups will soon realise that there is nothing to stop them from capturing and holding territories not unlike the IS, and implementing the same system of governance as the IS has currently implemented. The governments of the countries in which the Associated Groups are located owe a responsibility to its citizens to ensure that the probable expansion of the operations of the Associated Groups is halted before it is given a chance to progress.

Previously, there were groups similar to the IS and the Associated Groups scattered across the globe. We were well aware of their existence, but apart from a few of the more notable ones like TTP and Boko Haram, the threat level from such groups was fairly insignificant in the context of a global issue. The IS, in gaining the support of its international counterparts, is ensuring that its operations are not limited to just Syria and Iraq. At the very least, the confidence boost the IS must provide to the Associated Groups through their operations in Syria and Iraq will be hard to contain for the respective governments of the Associated Groups, presumably with the Associated Groups seeking to replicate the efforts of the IS. It is only a matter of time before the IS and the Associated Groups go as far as soliciting the movement of personnel in between the groups.

The Economist reported that the ranks of the IS are currently filled with about 3,000 foreign fighters. There lies an anomaly in the situation surrounding the IS in that there are increasing reports of Western teenagers joining the IS in Syria and Iraq.  As with all groups similar to the IS, the main focus of recruitment is on the impressionable younger generation. We have seen the recruitment of children and young adults from similar groups around the world from time to time, mainly restricted to local and nearby territories. What makes this an anomaly is that young people from Europe, the US and from as far away as Australia are joining the ranks of the IS. Moreover, an increasing number of young girls and women are showing up from all over the globe to join the IS. 

The recruitment drive facilitated by young Western people is very peculiar, and it is very curious to see what actually brings them to joining the IS. It certainly points towards dissatisfaction amongst Western youths which could be one of many reasons. It may be the lure of leading a life of looting and pillaging which can certainly be appealing to a lot of teenagers. The last thing you would expect to see on a video released by the IS is a ginger Australian teenager or Belgian teenage girls making the announcements. It makes no sense at all. However, it does beg the question, is there a recruitment policy in place which is being implemented in the Western world and which subsequently allows and facilitates for the membership of Western teenagers and young adults into the IS?

On the other hand, there are groups of people from Europe who have joined the fight against the IS. Motorcycle clubs from the Netherlands and Germany have had members sent in to combat the IS. Does the involvement of multiple nationalities in the fight for and against the IS point towards a larger, global issue? It would certainly appear so.

It is pertinent to note that the manner in which the IS has been currently set up and is being run points towards the IS being much bigger than they were initially given credit for. Their move towards sustainable financing sets them up for a larger, global attack; particularly with the allegiance of the Associated Groups as an added advantage. Moreover, the ever increasing popularity of the IS within the young citizens of the Western world is as worrying as it is peculiar, as is the involvement of similar people fighting against the IS. However, there is a strong feeling that the impact of the operations of the IS will certainly not be limited to Iraq and Syria in the near future, and we may well be heading towards a truly global issue. There is now no doubt that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is well and truly aiming to be the Islamic State.