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The Noose Tightens on Money Flows to Jihadists in Iraq and Syria


The Russian-sponsored resolution to fight more precisely the financing of the Islamic jihadists who control swaths of Iraq and Syria passed unanimously in the United Nations Security Council recently, expressing the entire council’s dread, at least for now, of the two main protagonists terrorizing the region — Islamic State (ISIS) and Al Nusra Front.

Syria’s ambassador to the UN, Bashar Jaafari, right, and Iraq’s ambassador, Mohamed Ali Alhakim, after the vote on a new resolution to combat ISIS and Al Nusra Front.

“We’re very pleased to see that the council has moved finally in the right direction,” said Mohamed Ali Alhakim, the Iraqi ambassador to the UN.

He was referring to the newest decision to counter the terrorist groups by further constricting the sale of their oil and oil byproducts and threatening sanctions against those who might be involved in such trades.

But it remains unclear what Russia’s motives were behind the resolution in the council’s taking more practical steps to squeeze the flow of money to ISIS and Al Nusra and, by extension, Al Qaeda. Russia, a permanent member of the council, is not a big presenter of resolutions, especially regarding Syria, whose government it has supported since the country’s civil war began in 2011.

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The resolution, in the works for months, builds on previous binding resolutions, including a momentous one passed in August 2014 condemning ISIS, Al Nusra and other Al Qaeda affiliates. That resolution, like the latest one, concentrated on cutting the flow of money from oil and gas sales by these terrorist groups to finance their military operations in northern Iraq and in parts of Syria.

Among other new material in the recent resolution, the council condemned the kidnapping of women and children by the terrorists and addressed ransoms being paid to the terrorists. Women and girls who are kidnapped can end up being sold like produce in Iraq regions held by ISIS, the Iraq ambassador said after the council meeting.

Samantha Power, the American ambassador to the UN, noted the council’s unity on ISIS once again, but lamented the council’s many huge failures since 2011 to work together to end the war in Syria in the first place.

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“There is no better recruiting tool for ISIL than the atrocities of the [Bashar] Assad regime, which has dropped barrels bombs on civilians, used chemical weapons on its own people and tortured tens of thousands more in its prisons,” she said, referring to the alternative name for ISIS. “We regret that we were not able to show the same unity we have shown today in passing the critically important resolution on ISIL when it came to the crimes of the Assad regime.”

The current action by Russia to zero in more concertedly to choke oil and gas money to the extremist groups may be tied to Europe’s decision in 2013 to lift Syrian oil sanctions to aid the opposition in Syria, a move that has come back to haunt the West as the opposition appears to have been absorbed by ISIS and by Al Nusra. This development has put the two extremist groups in control of wells and pipelines in rebel-held areas in the region and helped solidify their power.

As its primary aim, the new resolution pressures countries to prevent and disrupt vehicles going to and from areas held by ISIL and Al Nusra to stop assets that they trade in — including oil and gas, precious metals and minerals (gold, silver, diamonds and the like), refining equipment and even cigarettes — but it does not require neighboring countries, such as Turkey, to seize oil tanker trucks traveling to or from ISIS or Al Nusra territory. The only related obligation for member states is to report to the relevant Security Council sanctions committee within 30 days of interdiction activities.

Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, told reporters that the resolution’s goal was to fight terrorism, pure and  simple.

But Russia may have also been motivated to put forward the resolution in reaction to a November 2014 report by a Security Council sanctions committee that pinpointed how more enhanced sanctions could curb ISIS and Al Nusra income.

The resolution is legally binding under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, obligating member states to abide by its requirements, but like the previous resolution meant to end the flow of funds to the extremists, this is no guarantee that all member states will follow the law. Notably, this resolution threatens sanctions but does not impose new ones. That matter will be dealt with in a separate resolution being circulated by Britain.

The resolution also homes in on another revenue generator for the extremists: the lucrative business of trafficking in local cultural artifacts. By emphasizing the legal obligation of member states to stop the trade in Syrian cultural relics pilfered from the country since March 15, 2011, and referring to previous resolutions banning the sale of illegal antiquities from Iraq since August 1990, the council drew attention to this continuing activity. It called on Unesco, Interpol and other international groups to help ensure that looted artifacts were returned to their homelands.

Jordan introduced an element in the resolution concerning abductions of women and children committed by the extremist groups. Iraq’s ambassador, Mohamed Ali Alhakim, said after the council’s vote that the sale of Yazidi women and girls by ISIS in its open markets is common, but that the females do not fetch as much money as illegal antiquities. He cited a figure of “as much as $200” being paid for a woman or a girl, calling the practice a “wound” for Iraq.



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Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder, with Barbara Crossette, of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, Leimbach has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.

Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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The Noose Tightens on Money Flows to Jihadists in Iraq and Syria
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