ISIS cuts wages and slows operations in Iraq
Erbil - Coalition air strikes that destroyed a northern Iraq depot storing millions of dollars of Islamic State (ISIS) cash drove the militant group to a currency crunch, forcing it to sharply cut salaries of hundreds of jihadists.
The January 11th US-led coalition air strike on the facility known as the Mosul Bank is also affecting the group’s mobility and has forced it to scale back operations in Iraq and Syria, according to a regional intelligence agent.
Several Mosul residents in contact with The Arab Weekly confirmed changes on the ground, saying ISIS in their town had launched austerity measures.
With Mosul cut off from Sinjar, a crucial northern city recaptured by the Kurds, ISIS may have a difficult time replenishing its coffers from oil wealth generated from selling Syrian and Iraqi oil on the black market in Turkey, one intelligence official said.
In the absence of revenues, ISIS may also lose popularity among young Mosul residents who were drawn to join the group for the financial perks they were once promised, the official told The Arab Weekly in Jordan.
The financial crunch came to public eye in November after the ISIS “financial minister”, known as Abu Salah, was killed in US air strikes along with two other top ISIS leaders and about 350 fighters near Tal Afar, 50km north-west of Mosul.
Days before he was killed, Abu Salah issued an urgent memo instructing local units across Iraq to sharply cut monthly wages of jihadists. He dictated salary reductions for 3,000 fighters from about $400 a month to about $110, according to the November 1, 2015, memo, bearing ISIS’s logo and distributed across Iraq.
That decision was reaffirmed by the group’s Treasury Ministry, which issued an urgent memorandum on January 15th reasserting the cuts, which it blamed on “exceptional circumstances”.
The Arab Weekly was shown both documents by sources in Iraq and the intelligence operative abroad.
ISIS did not detail what the “exceptional circumstances” were but the latest memo followed a January 11th US-led coalition air strike that destroyed the ISIS cash storage facility in Mosul. The group had allegedly stored “millions” to pay operatives and finance ongoing operations, US and regional intelligence officials said.
“ISIS’s financial situation today is even worse than it was in November when the first document came out,” observed the intelligence official. He said there was a “general decline” in the number of attacks in Iraq claimed by ISIS.
Mosul residents said they also noticed that perks offered to jihadists, such as a one-time payment of $1,500 for newly-weds, was stopped. So did ISIS’s frequent extravagant food banquets for its top leaders.
To cope with its financial woes, the ISIS-appointed governor of Mosul issued a fatwa in January allowing militants to raise funds from local citizens by taxing them, the intelligence operative said.
His account was confirmed by a Mosul resident, who said five of his young male relatives were jihadists working for ISIS in northern Iraq.
Publicly, ISIS said the new tax would not affect the collection and distribution of Zakat, or alms giving, an obligatory religious tax in Islam, according to the Mosul resident.
To justify its decision, ISIS cited the Quran, claiming that it prioritises “jihad of wealth”, or spending in beneficial or charitable ways, over “jihad of soul”, according to the documents.
In August 2015, ISIS released a propaganda video showing the group’s own currency of small gold, silver and copper coins. It claimed its 21-carat gold coin weighs 4.25 grams and was worth $139. It said the coin could not be used outside areas ruled by ISIS.
The Mosul resident and two other sources in the city, however, said the group was using US dollars and local currency to pay its fighters, including foreigners who set up bases in the Al-Kifah neighbourhood, south of Tal Afar.
“This area has become cosmopolitan with blond and green-eyed foreign jihadists all over the place. Even the ruler is Caucasian who doesn’t speak Arabic,” observed a resident, who identified himself as Younes.
“We don’t dare to enter Al-Kifah,” he said. “Those who do, even by mistake, are never back to Tal Afar, so we assume they were killed immediately.”