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Unholy alliance over oil

Call it an unholy alliance, call it complicated, call it the Middle East – but according to several experts, it appears that ISIS, the Islamic

Call it an unholy alliance, call it complicated, call it the Middle East – but according to several experts, it appears that ISIS, the Islamic terrorist group is selling oil to its mortal enemy, the regime of Syrian president Bashar Assad.

To finance its militant campaign in Iraq and Syria, ISIS has relied heavily on the revenue it generates from captured oil fields, some of which are now being targeted by U.S.-led airstrikes.

ISIS is believed to be one of the most well-funded terrorist groups ever. Carjackings, bank robberies, extortion and kidnappings for ransom help fund the organization. But oil is the number one revenue stream for them.

Their oil production has been estimated at tens of thousands of barrels a day, and generates between $1 and $3 million a day of revenue, analysts say.

The challenge though is finding buyers for ISIS oil.

Even at its discounted price, as low as $25 a barrel no one wants to admit to buying oil from a bunch of terrorists. That means ISIS oil sales are getting to market the old fashioned way–through smugglers onto the black market.

ISIS is also refining some of this oil itself and selling the product in the local market Matthew M. Reed, vice-president of Foreign Reports, a Washington based consulting firm that analyzes oil and politics in the Middle East, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

"There's good reason to believe that the refined product coming from ISIS oil is actually being used in places that are fighting ISIS," he said. 

And that includes the group’s sworn enemy, the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"The regime in Damascus has pulled its punches with ISIS from the beginning in order to promote the idea that all of Assad's enemies are terrorists," Reed told CBC. "So if you allow ISIS to flourish and then ISIS in return also gives you breathing space—let's say it allows oil to pass through its territory, allows refineries they could cut off to keep operating under regime control—it benefits both sides."

In an interview with PRI’s The World, Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at Oklahoma University added some juicy details about the trade, "In particular, one person who's been fingered is a very prominent Christian businessman close to the [Syrian] president who buys it, then arranges with the Syrian government to have it shipped back."

Landis said that because of western trade sanctions, the Syrian government has to get its oil either from smugglers, or from those pumping it inside the country–so probably either directly or indirectly from ISIS-controlled fields or territories. "The Assad government has to run its war machine, it has to run its cities, it needs power," Landis says, and it can get its power from ISIS "cheaply" because ISIS controls much of the country's oil fields.

Syria isn't the only unlikely customer. The smuggling networks take the oil to local refineries in some of the same places ISIS is fighting, like Kurdistan and Turkey. 

And long-time Middle East Correspondent, Dexter Filkins, said pretty much the same thing on NPR’s Fresh Air, “They're smuggling the stuff mostly into Turkey, but also, you know, they're smuggling into other parts of Iraq and other parts of Syria. They're selling it to the Assad regime, they're selling it to the Kurds…you know, everybody needs oil.”

Cheap oil—and all this time we thought it was the cause of war.

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