The $2 Billion Terror Group in Iraq


Iraq is under siege. The radical al-Qaeda offshoot known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) has swiftly captured large swaths of territory in the north and west, taking Iraqi security forces — and western officials — by surprise.

The terrorist group first gained notoriety for its ability to fuel a sectarian civil war in Iraq after the American invasion in 2003. Ten years later, the group decided to join the fight in Syria, changing its name to ISIL to reflect a new ambition: to take advantage of the chaos of the Syrian civil war to establish an Islamic state spanning the Iraq-Syria border.

SEE ALSO: Iraq Implodes: What You Need to Know

In the last two years, the group has become much more sophisticated, publishing corporate-style annual reports boasting about its war accomplishments to attract donors and showing an eerie flair for social media outreach.

But who is ISIL? And how big is the group? Here are some numbers that suggest why the rise of ISIL could mean the end of Iraq.

ISIL Militants
It’s hard to know exactly how many fighters are in ISIL’s ranks. Estimates vary between 10,000 and 15,000 (including 3,000 foreigners), which are spread across Syria and Iraq. Its ranks may have been bolstered by fighters from other Sunni groups in Iraq, who are disaffected by the current Shiite government of Nouri Al-Maliki, according to the Guardian.

ISIL Assets
ISIL was recently labelled “the world’s richest terrorist organization” with an estimated $2 billion in total assets. The stunning number is based on intelligence culled from documents found on a collection of USB drives that a ISIL courier was carrying when he was killed.

The figure includes the estimated value of stolen military equipment as well as cash stolen from Mosul’s central bank, a heist that netted the group 500 billion Iraqi dinars (around $425 million.)

“That’ll buy a whole lot of Jihad,” as Eliot Higgins, a weapons and Middle East expert who blogs under the name Brown Moses, put it.

ISIL Controlled Area
After its recent advances through northern Iraq, ISIL now controls approximately 35,000 square miles — an area roughly size of Maine — according to The Economist, giving ISIL de facto control over 6 million people.

ISIL Weapons
One of the biggest unanswered questions about ISIL is its weapons stockpile. Adding to its existing stash of weapons, the group has seized an unknown number of American-made guns and military equipment during its raid through the country. The militants now possess Humvees and other armored vehicles in addition to a wide array of machine guns and rifles and reportedly even six Black Hawk helicopters. It’s unclear if the militants have the ability to fly the helicopters themselves but they’re definitely acquiring a considerable arsenal – and looking for help.

In its flashy, slick-looking, annual report from 2013, ISIL boasts of 9,540 operations, including 4,465 roadside bombs (also known as IEDs), more than 600 car bombs, 1,083 assassinations, and hundreds of freed prisoners. These numbers should obviously be taken with a grain of salt since their goal is to advertise and attract both recruits and donors, but they give an idea of the group’s activities.

June 19, 2014 | Comments »

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