The Islamic State’s staggering successes come at a cost. After all, it’s not cheap to wage war and manage bitcoin arms dealers conquests whose population is now roughly the size of Austria’s. So how can ISIS, cut off from the rest of the world by financial and trade sanctions, and under daily aerial and land bombardment by some of the richest countries in the world, afford to maintain a well-armed military and pay other bills?
Interviews with Iraqi, Kurdish, European, Syrian and American government officials, analysts and intelligence agents sketch a portrait of ISIS’s robust, sprawling, and efficient financial operation. Its currencies of choice—cash, crude oil and contraband—allow it to operate outside of legitimate banking channels. Luay al-Khatteeb, visiting fellow of the Doha Brookings Center and director of the Iraq Energy Institute in Baghdad. On October 23, Washington’s point person in the fight against ISIS—the U. This presents a formidable obstacle for the U.