Daily Video

October 19, 2015

How ISIS steals oil to stay in power


The Islamic State (ISIS) finances much of its military operation through the selling and siphoning off of oil in Iraq and Syria.

The profits, some say upwards of 1.5 million dollars a day, help the extremist group stay in power and exert influence over the regions they currently occupy. 

It is too risky for coalition forces to bomb an oil field because it could lead to a natural disaster and make future oil production difficult, according to “Financial Times” reporter Erika Solomon.

ISIS began to take over oil fields not long after the Syrian civil war started almost five years ago, Solomon said. ISIS uses employees who had already been working at the oil fields to continue production.

ISIS sells most of the oil they steal to locals living under their control, instead of the Syrian or Turkish government. The locals have no other option since ISIS cuts off other roots of supply, Solomon said.

In northwest Syria, ISIS also sells oil to groups they are fighting against, including Syrian opposition fighters. “They fight ISIS at the same time that they actually have to buy their fuel because they have no other option,” Solomon said.

In order to show their level of exertion in the region, ISIS at one point blocked fuel from reaching area hospitals, resulting in a number of patients’ deaths.

The anti-ISIS coalition, which includes the U.S., Turkey and several European and Middle Eastern nations, has found it difficult to come up with a solution to break ISIS’ control over the oil industry, according to Solomon.

While ISIS controls the extraction and sale of crude oil, local people rely heavily on their jobs as oil refiners and sellers.  If the coalition targets ISIS-controlled roads and facilities, they could end up turning these civilian traders against them.


siphon — to convey or draw off a liquid through means of a tube, typically using suction or immersion

oil refinery — an industrial process plant where crude oil is processed and refined into more useful products such as gasoline or diesel fuel

coalition to fight ISIS — a partnership between nations, including the U.S., to use airstrikes against ISIS in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere

Warm up questions
  1. Where is Syria?
  2. Why is oil such a valuable commodity?
  3. Who are the participants in the ongoing conflict in Syria?
Critical thinking questions
  1. How is ISIS able to get away with stealing so much oil?
  2. Why can’t locals simply stop buying from ISIS?
  3. What should be done to prevent ISIS from controlling access to oil in regions of Syria and Iraq?
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