Adel Kamal and Mohammad Ouad
In a small shop in Al-Ba’aj town, west of Nineveh, close to the Syrian borders, Jameel Al-Matuttee carries on his trade activity, which seems to have flourished after the “Islamic State” had taken hold of Mosul and its surrounding towns, when he found himself, thanks to his relations with the State’s Emirs, a supplier of fuel and civil wheels used in combat missions.
The small cattle and cigarette smuggler of yesterday has overnight become a businessman, trading in each and every thing you can imagine: food, medicine, mechanical equipment and oil products through exchanging transactions that extend to include three countries; namely, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey.
Ali, Jameel’s brother, preceded his brother in their trading relations with the Islamic State Organization, along with many other militant groups, as he had been supplying them with light and medium weapons for two years before ISIS could seize control over the whole of Nineveh Governorate.
Ali was used to purchase weaponry from officers of the Iraqi military units, deployed around Mosul and on the Iraq-Syria borders, and then sell them to many militant groups in Iraq and Syria, including some Syrian opposition parties, before he changed his trade activity in June 2014, when ISIS had had the upper hand in Nineveh and started to trade in vehicles and war booties in Sinjar and Tal Afar regions.
For many years in the desert area extending along the Iraqi-Syrian borders, tribesmen were engaged in large and complicated trade across the international borders, including smuggling operations, which constituted the life nerve of the region.
Kasum Hassou, a Yazidi from Sinjar, who was trading in cars, spare parts and vehicles, says: “People of some clans have been for years trading in almost everything; fuels, arms, cigarettes, food, etc., They have been living on this trade. They were transferring legal goods through Rab’iah crossing point and the illegal purchases across the borders with the consent of officers from their clans, who were responsible for the borders’ security.”
Hassou adds, “After the organization had taken control of Sinjar, some people of the clans in the region got stronger, thanks to their support to ISIS. They ransacked each and every thing they can find in the city; commercial stores were looted and hundreds of the cars left at the entrances of Sinjar Mountain were plundered and considered as spoils. In the city, which was completely vacated from its Yazidi residents, looted contents of a whole alley were displayed for sale as if it were a quasi- auction”.
The role of some of the significant figures in the pro-ISIS clans’ was not only confined to providing them with fighters or doing administrative tasks, but they have become, with the support of the organization, an indivisible part of the economic mechanism that is badly needed to maintain the sustainability of organisation,”, Hassou adds.
“On the other hand, like many Arab clans’ chiefs, some Kurdish tradesmen, who rejected the organization’s policies or contested their practices, or took refuge in Kurdistan, or collaborated with the former Iraqi Governments – they had almost lost everything and suddenly found themselves outside the economic ring empty-handed.”, Hassou says
Exploitation of unemployment
Sheikhs’ and tribes’ population agree that the interests linking some tribesmen with ISIS are the same very interests that linked them with Saddam Hussein’s regime, who, after their 1991 uprising, handed them most of the security centers, and granted them more and more freedom in trading business, with the state’s role being diminished and confined to securing the supply of their basic needs.
After the collapse of Al-Ba’ath Regime in April 2003, Paul Bremer, the US communal governor, issued a decision to deactivate the Ministry of Defense, leaving tens of thousands of demobilized army personnel without any means to earn their livelihoods, forming a large army of jobless men, belonging to many clans.
Hence, the newly-arisen religious factions welcomed that army of unemployed men with open arms and started to manipulate them in launching a ferocious street war. That actually happened even before ISIS invaded the city and took its reins. Such army of former army personnel does not only constitute the combatant might of ISIS, but they also form its economic power after being entrusted with the task of managing many vital commercial and productive sectors.
Between 2005 and 2014, it was quite easy for those idle army personnel to get deeply involved with the ranks of the militant groups. They started to perpetrate some very effective assassination and bombing operations and other acts of violence to invoke a state of anarchy, all in return for monies. .
“The financial need is no doubt the prime factor behind pushing me to join the Islamic State,” said one of the detainees while being cross-examined by an investigator in the Iraqi army second contingent late in 2013. He was detained by Iraq’s army after being charged with murdering Nawra Al-Naeemi, a woman journalist. That was actually the frankest part in his confessions, which seemed to be colored with some exaggerations.
He said so while trying to resist the pains badly scattered in many parts of his body as a result of torture, “I killed her in return for 50,000 dinar, I don’t know who she is, neither do I have any idea about her job. … I usually get informed about name and address through someone, and then I do as instructed. And sometimes I don’t get paid on time.” he said.
Sheikh Maleeh Al-Zobai, a member of Nineveh Governorate Council, exclaims that “Al-Qaeda Organization”, had shown up in Iraq firstly under the name of “The Islamic State of Iraq”, which was then converted into “The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” ‘ISIL’, and finally, after the occupation of Mosul , into “The Islamic State”.
“On their arrival, they took better advantage of the unemployment rampant among the youth, and opened their arms to embrace them and become their eyes and incubators within towns and villages. Hence, the clannish areas, which had been eaten up by desertification which had buried its villages under sands; those areas have been turned into training camps and depots for their weaponry.” he said.
” The prevalent feeling of enmity towards the central government as a result of its long-standing suppression, arbitrary arrests and sectarian discrimination policies, all seem to have helped the organization to carry out its plans.”, Sheikh Maleeh added.
Sheikh Al-Zobai confirmed that ISIS was receiving huge unending resources due to their close commercial ties with some clans, a state of affairs that truly contributed to further bolster their presence there. On the other hand, ISIS’s invasion of Nineveh was great news for those who were looking for job opportunities, especially after the desertification wave, striking the area in the preceding decade, seemed to have wiped out the thickly-populated agricultural and grazing areas, south and west of Nineveh.
The salaries paid to the jobless urged many clans to export would-be militants to ‘ISIS’, namely; Al-Bou Matuette, Al-Hamadani, Al-Bou Bdran, Al-Bou Hamad, Az-Zobeidat, Al-Hamdoun, Ajl-Jabour (Ash-Shora and Hammam Al- Alil districts, south of Mosul), and Turkmen clans.
Levy Diwan (treasury office in the older Islamic administration)
After declaring Mosul as the Caliphate Center in mid 2014, ISIS found no difficulty in incorporating the former allies within their newly-established administrative formations, or what’s known as “‘Dawawin” (treasury offices). And as per sources from Sheikhs of tribes and their branches, some of whom are very close to those formations; ISIS distributed the tasks in those treasury offices among specific tribes.
Hashim Ahmed ,48 years, who is a major in the local police force, and who had supervised investigations with many militant elements, attributes assigning the task of collecting taxes for Al-Qaeda since 2004, and later on for ISIS, to individuals from Al-Saba’oweyeen clan – attributes it to the dense presence of its people in the southern areas of Mosul and in the residential neighborhoods in the southern part of the city, besides the close relation existing between many of them and Saddam Hussein’s former regime.
However, he says, ‘This doesn’t in any way mean the overall involvement of the whole clan with ISIS, simply because there is a large group from them joining ‘Nineveh Liberation Camp’,south of the city, and fighting ISIS, under the command of Faraj Al-Saba’wey. They are known as ‘Al-Saba’oweyeen Regiment’.
Some security sources in Nineveh estimated the monthly revenues collected by ISIS before 2014 from taxes at five million US dollars, regularly paid by tradesmen, goldsmiths, private companies, doctors, pharmacists, transport agencies, factories, workshops, labs, plants…..etc, while on the other hand the governmental circles, represented by the Contracts Department in Nineveh Governorate, cut percentages from the monies given to contractors and offer it to the “Islamic State”.
That was outspokenly announced by Major General Mahdy Al-Gharrawy, commander of the Federal Police Third Squad, who had become a few days before the collapse of Mosul the commander of Nineveh operations. “Lots of the society strata pay taxes to the organization, so do some of the governmental circles.” he said.
Some influential clannish sources in Mosul said that the organization assigned the responsibility of the judicial bodies to members of Arab Iraqi tribes exclusively, whereas the responsibility of the “Muslim House of Money”, which equals the Central Bank, is given solely to multi-national expatriates.
Same sources elaborate saying, “The Iraqi clan’s ceased working in the House of Money, after being targeted in a raid launched by the International Alliance late last year. Their office was occupying a building in Nircal residential area, east of Mosul.
ISIS Economic Map
Through tracking the clans pledging loyalty to the organization or those having victims among their chiefs, or those who are being unendingly targeted by ISIS to secure the total loyalty of all the remaining clans and their chieftains – it is obvious that the areas where the majority of these clans live, form the economic map of ISIS, and its main funding sources..
The weight of ISIS’s self- proclaimed ‘caliphate’ was centered there, with borders holding existing refineries, oilfields, transportation roads, and commercial hubs.
That tracking journey starts from Rabe’ih District on the borders with Syria (120 km west of Mosul), where ‘Shommar Clan’ resides. And despite the lack of open close relations between ISIS and this clan, yet even before the occupation of Mosul, the organization controlled, through their intelligence, the movement of the goods transported through that border crossing point. That actually constitutes a constant financial resource, through imposing fees amounting to around $300 – $600 on any lorry passing there, each according to the type of its cargo.
First Lieutenant Ahmed Hazem was serving in Iraqi Army during Saddam’s era, and later on he had been involved with many militant factions, before he was apprehended by the American army and then released in mid 2010. He later on joined the local police force, and was detained by the organization early on July 2014, but after he announced his repentance. he was set free.
On a phone call with Hazim (before he was executed by ISIS on
27 /7/ 2015 along with some officials serving with the Election Commissariat Bureau in Nineveh, and 191 other victims affiliated to security apparatuses), he said, ” ISIS planted spies to monitor the movement of commercial lorries, and get military vehicles ambushed, during the last few years along the international road leading to the passageway and penetrating Rabe’ih, Al-iadah, and then Hamediat until it reaches “Al-Sham Gate” at the western entrance of Mosul”.
He added saying, “The militant elements themselves are now imposing their control over the place, and they are locals from amongst the region clans including: Al-Jehaish, Al- Bou Matuette, Al-Daula, Al-Loaizein, Al-Bou Hamdan, Al-Lehiab, Al-Jabour, Al-Ma’amera, Al-Bou Salama, Aj-Jerjeria, and some other Turkmen clans.”
Following the track of ISIS’s economic map, and in Tal Afar Province, which was housing Al-Kask Oil Refinery, which was dismantled and its parts were transferred to Syria, the organization got its major number of fighters from amongst Turkmen clans and entrusted them with the task of leading “Sinjar invasion” in August 2014, according to what was confirmed by Major Hashim Ahmed from the local police force.
Baiji is situated south west of Nineveh, and constitutes a big part of the semi desert, whose borders are open with Syria and Al-Ramadi Governorate. ‘Al-Bou Hamdan Clan’ constitutes around 80% of the population there, next to them come the clans of Shommar, Al-Zobeidiat, Al-Akedat, As-Sakkour, Eial Ash-Sheikh, and Al-Jabour,. Baiji is a vital historical passageway for smuggling oil, arms and even militants, besides its being a basic safe haven for ISIS’s camps.
Farouq Al-Zubeidi, 33 years of age, had once been one of the most notorious smugglers in Baiji before converting into an ISIS militant with a salary amounting to 400,000 Iraqi Dinar (around $330). He says in the course of a conversation on Twitter, ” What I’m doing now is not that different from my previous activity. My life, like most people in our village, was not more than a manhunt with border patrols. I was fighting before to get money, but now I’ m fighting to be rewarded by Heaven’s blessings. Bless be to Allah who endowed us with the Islamic State to guide us along the right path to heaven.”
In the process of tracking the map until reaching the city of Mosul and its southern areas, there appears the role and influence of Al-Bou Badran clan, whose folk spread in many villages south of Mosul, mostly in “Al-Journ”, and in the right coastal regions of Mosul such as Musherifa, Tel Ar-Romman, Al-Zangaly, and Al-Eslah. These areas are privileged with the presence of a railway line, and a strategic road, leading to the international land road.
And as from the farthest south of Mosul, the huge influence of Al-Jabour clan appears and extends along 200 km to reach Hammam Al-Alil, Al-Queyara and Ash-Shoura to the south, then passing to Ash-Sharqat district which is affiliated to Saladin Governorate, then to Baiji District, where the largest Iraqi refineries are situated.
On talking about oil and underground resources, the crucial role of Al-Jabour clan members strongly appears on the scene, simply because oil wells and transport roads are available across their areas, particularly in Al-Qaira district, which houses one of the oldest oilfields discovered by the British Rehabilitation of Oilfields Company in 1927. Its reserves are estimated at roughly 800 million barrels of crude heavy oil.
And there are oil depots in Hammam Al- ‘Alil area, which is connected with pipelines carrying the oil products coming from Baiji refinery. There is also the gas plant there, whereas Al-Mashraq sulfur field exists in Ash-Shoura district. The international road between Mosul and Baghdad passes through these three districts and this what makes such areas strategically important.
Talking about the presence of Al-Jabour clan in these three areas, a member in Nineveh Governorate Council, who asked not to be identified, said, “Some members of Al-Jabour clan benefited from ISIS in terms of oil trade. However, the clan is also the most vulnerable to ISIS attacks also because of oil. This is why the organization killed dozens of its chieftains and village dignitaries south of Mosul, being suspected of informing the concerned authorities about the roads ISIS use for smuggling and selling oil.
While actually editing this investigative report, the organization announced their execution of four senior figures from this clan in Hammam Al- ‘Alil, being indicted of dealing with Baghdad Government, raising the number of the victims from the three districts (Al-Qaira, Ash-Shoura, and Hammam Al- ‘Alil) to 11 notables.
Ghassan Abd Al-Jabouri, in his thirties, says that members from his clan in Hammam Al- ‘Alil, 35 km south of Mosul, take charge of protecting and carrying oil and its products there. This is simply because they have no work to do. The number of the jobless is escalating more and more, due to the unemployment problem that has been striking them since 2003. “ We have only two options left, either to get involved in the oil black market, or join ISIS’s ranks.”, he said.
Ghassan Abd Al-Jabouri, in his thirties, says that members from his clan in Hammam Al- ‘Alil, 35 km south of Mosul, take charge of protecting and carrying oil and its products there. This is simply because they are idle with no work to do. The number of the jobless is escalating more and more, due to the unemployment problem that has been striking them since 2003. “ We have only two options left, either to get involved in the oil black market, or join the ISIS’s ranks.”, he said.
The activity of the this tribe folk extends to reach the western region of Mosul, which swarms with small mobile primitive oil refineries, each of which produces around 30 barrels of oil a day, and employs a working team consisting of over ten workmen to be supervised by an engineer. Their daily wage is roughly $25, as per sources from the region. One of these sources is Zahid Mustafa, deputy officer in the former Iraqi Army, who owns an office for selling oil in Mosul.
Moustafa says that ISIS had established “Ar-Rikaz Diwan” (equal to the ministry of oil and underground resources) to supervise oil production, transfer some of it to Syria, and provide the crude oil supply which is locally needed in Nineveh to run more than 2,000 diesel-operated generators, due to the lack of gasoline. This can secure a part of the electricity badly needed daily for the citizens of Mosul. He confirms what has been mentioned earlier by saying, “Al-Jabour members constitute the major human resources needed to run either this small oil empire, besides being represented within ‘Al-Rikaz Diwan.”
Such economic machinery associated with the clans is what enables the organization to provide different types of oil products. The price of benzene depends on its quality and ranges between 1000 and 1,700 dinar per liter, while the price of the fuel needed for diesel-operated engines is around 1000 dinar per liter. As for the price of liquefied gas cylinder, it ranges between 30,000 and 35,000 dinar..
Daniel Glazer, Undersecretary of the US Treasury Ministry for Funding Terrorism Affairs, in the Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Bureau, said to the Associated Press a few days earlier that the Islamic State’s returns from oil trade reach roughly $500 million yearly, according to some submitted evidences, which indicate that the organization has been making 40 million US dollars monthly since early 2015. He also believes that the organization collects hundreds of millions of US dollars yearly from the “taxes” imposed on all commercial activities in the areas under their control.
The organization also controls at present 11 oilfields in Iraq and Syria, and transports the extracted oil from there by trucks to the black markets in Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq.
According to the abovementioned regional and clannish order, the wealth of ISIS is distributed, and in this very same order, its forces invaded Mosul and continued its sweeping progress to reach, within a few days, Baiji District, which is affiliated to Saladin Province, roughly 200 km south of Mosul.
That was mentioned in the investigation report issued by the parliamentary fact-finding committee formed to scrutinize the causes behind the fall of Mosul, and was also asserted by many Sheikhs from these areas, and by security leaders who were present there.
In a nutshell, the economic situation of Mosul after June 2014 and the commercial movement including its different dimensions, were not only a funding source for ISIS, but it also contributed to keeping the cities under their control, and their inhabitants alive throughout the past months.
Ahmed, a citizen from Mosul, and one of the engineers working in the field of refining oil says that the flourishing local oil refineries, in addition to the commercial movement of oil products and other commodities across Syria and Turkey have had a key role in preventing humanitarian catastrophes that could have struck the helpless inhabitants, but on the other hand, it represented good resources for the organization and contributed to maintaining the momentum of its battles besides doubling its financial capabilities.
Clans and Salvation of Mosul
Through precisely – drawn policies, ISIS maintained the clannish structure of Mosul and its geographical surroundings, which have been created by balances lasting for decades, but they exploited the weak points in the clannish formula and the constant regional divisions among their members, not to mention the existence of disputant leaderships always competing for the parliamentarian representation of their clans, with the support of the former political regimes.
Abbas Hussein, a civilian activist who is interested in Nineveh’s affairs says: “That clannish environment created a perfect atmosphere for ISIS organization, as it enabled it to attract leaderships inside the clans to share in the bodies it established to run Mosul, being an extension to the symbolic representation of the clans in the administrative, security, and economic structures of the city.”.
Hussein points out that the organization succeeded in cementing its influence within the clannish structure “through establishing networks of economic interests, being imposed by the dire need of inhabitants to keep surviving, and by some Sheikhs’ thirst for money and authority, a state of affairs that results in supplying the organization with more and more resources to further boost its might.”
ISIS’s understanding of the power embodied within the clans, and its endeavors to control and use it to further enhance its influence and thwart any form of mutiny, are all factors pushing the organization to respond to any possible governmental move to win the clans’ support. A few weeks earlier, exactly after choosing someone from Al-Bou Hamad clan ,namely, Noffal Al- Acoup, to be the governor of Nineveh, ISIS’s response came just on the spot through releasing a video clip featuring the clan’s Sheikh, Talal Al- Acoup, announcing disownment of the new governor and renewal of ‘Bay’ah’ (pledge of loyalty) to the Islamic State.
To face the networks of interest established by the Islamic State Organization, Entisar Aj-Jabouri, a woman member of Iraq’s Parliament, calls for a return to the experiment of successful uprisings of 2006, so that we can win the allegiance of the clans known for their growing rejection of ISIS policies. She also suggested providing military support to those wishing to fight ISIS, especially their émigrés “I’m quite sure that in doing so, we’ll encourage people from other clans to revolt against ISIS and force them out of the country for good.”, she says.
However, political analyst Wejdan Nafeh views that handling the problem of clannish involvement with ISIS through resorting solely to military calculations is much like “running round in circles”, where stability seekers will see no glimpse of light at the end of the dark tunnel. She views that all the reasons behind clans’ cooperation with the extremist organization are still existing on the ground, including among other things injustice and prejudice against Sunnis, absence of equal rights, and their non- presence on the state’s official level, not to mention the other reasons that have regretfully arisen after Nineveh’s infrastructure had been reduced to rubble.”
Nafeh warns that any predictable victory that can be achieved by Iraqi forces in collaboration with the International Alliance, in obliterating the presence of the “Islamic State” in Nineveh, won’t actually be a conclusive one. Other threats of changing the maps of countries in the region will inevitably reappear again and again, if the present conditions that have actually led to the birth of ISIS remain as they are on the different political, economic and cultural levels.
* This report was done with the support of ‘Network of Iraqi Reporters for Investigative Journalism (NIRIJ), and under the supervision of Kummy Al-Mulhem.