If there is one anarchic group that every member of the United Nations Security Council currently finds abhorrent it is the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which has seized large regions of Iraq this summer, astonishing most of the world. So, all 15 council members — including Russia and China — passed a binding resolution on Aug. 15 aimed at choking the flow of weapons, money and fighters to the radical group known as ISIS and others in the Middle East.
To thwart the terrorists, the resolution sanctions six individuals linked to ISIS and to the Al Nusra Front, subjecting them to an international travel ban, asset freeze and arms embargo. The Security Council’s Al Qaeda sanctions regime must report back to the council in 90 days on new information about the recruitment and financing of ISIS and Al Nusra Front. Four of the people who have been sanctioned are nationals of either Saudi Arabia or Kuwait.
“Today, this council has sent a clear political message” to ISIS, the Al Nusra Front and other Al Qaeda-inspired terrorists and “has taken important practical steps to combat the threat they pose,” Mark Lyall Grant, the British ambassador to the UN, said in a statement.
Britain leads the Security Council this month as rotating president and initiated the resolution, which falls under Chapter VII in the UN Charter, meaning it can technically authorize military operations. Lyall Grant said that was not going to be the case, however, for this resolution. Speaking to the UN press corps after the council’s vote, he explained that the resolution was not country specific, so it applied to wherever ISIS and Al Nusra operate. Currently, they are present in Iraq and Syria and apparently growing, threatening “the wider Middle East region,” he said.
Yet how effective will the resolution be? Its goal is to behoove UN member states to completely isolate the terrorist groups from the outside. The sanctions tackling the “six key individuals,” some of whom operate outside Iraq, are meant to help stop the financing of the terrorist organizations. Two of the individuals are members of ISIS, four are closely associated with Al Nusra Front and all have links to Al Qaeda, Lyall Grant added, conceding that the resolution would not immediately change the situation on the ground, which has been in turmoil since late June.
ISIS, Al Nusra and the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, are already listed on the Qaeda sanctions regime, which is led by Gary Quinlan, the UN ambassador of Australia and an elected member of the council. The US government contends that Baghdadi lives in Syria. The bulk of ISIS’s financing is said to come from sources like smuggling and extortion.
For the resolution to be useful, countries “need to make sure that there is legislation in place in their own governments which can tackle incitement to terrorism,” Lyall Grant said. That includes prohibiting any sale or export of assets — like the oil resources ISIS now controls in Iraq — that can go into terrorists’ hands. Although ISIS may appear to be self-sustaining right now, it still must sell the oil, Lyall Grant added. The group’s plundering of banks and other short-term resources does not mean it can “survive independent of the outside world.”
Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, said that this “new front of the terrorist threat” in the region was spawned by the ability of ISIS and Al Nusra Front to capitalize on Syria’s civil war and Iraq’s instability. Jordan’s representative reinforced that message, saying after the vote in the Security Council that terrorism in Syria is rooted in the government’s brutal suppression of moderate opposition groups during its continuing civil war.
Saudi Arabia gave $100 million last week to the UN Counter-Terrorism Center, which is part of the UN’s larger counterterrorism task force in the Department of Political Affairs. The donation marks an about-face for Saudi Arabia toward the UN, as it walked away from the Security Council seat it was elected to take in January 2014 for a two-year term. (Jordan took it instead.)
The donation follows a recent $500 million gift from Saudi Arabia to the UN to help take care of Iraqi refugees fleeing ISIS. Some media reports have placed Saudi Arabia (and Kuwait) behind the move by Sunni extremists like ISIS to overwhelm Shiites in the Middle East.
Reuters reported this weekend that Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have agreed to abide by the new UN resolution after it became clear that four of the people who have been sanctioned are Saudi and Kuwaiti citizens.