Two Iraqi newspapers, New Sabah and Iraq Times recently disclosed new details on how insurgent groups are funding themselves in Ninewa province. They mentioned traditional means such as charging businesses protection money and kidnappings, but added information on stealing salaries from the security forces and charging money for imports. The governorate capital Mosul is an infamous urban base for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), but also includes other militant groups such as Ansar al-Sunna, and the Baathist Jaish Rijal al-Tariqat al-Naqshibandi. Their financial networks in Ninewa show the close convergence between the insurgency and criminal organizations.
In March 2014 the Iraq Times reported on the theft of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dinars from the security forces (ISF) in Ninewa. It reported that Interior Ministry forces in the province were supposed to receive 500,000 dinars a month starting in October 2013, but only got 250,000. It went on to say that some traffic police did not receive their full pay until March 2014, and that they sent a letter to the Finance Ministry demanding an investigation into their missing pay. Three days later New Sabah ran an article saying that insurgent groups were receiving these missing funds by threatening members of the ISF. Militants in the province were involved in a wide variety of other criminal activity to earn money to carry out their operations. These included charging royalties on the importation of electrical goods and food, demanding protection money from businesses that win contracts to work on projects in dangerous areas of the governorate, extorting money from electrical generator operators and small firms, and kidnapping people and holding them for ransom. New Sabah claimed that militants were making up to $8 million a month from these protection rackets. These later activities are all well known, and have been talked about for years. Niqash for example, ran a piece in November 2013 about the mafia like tactics ISIS was employing in Ninewa. This included demanding money not only from businesses, but schools, mosques, real estate agencies, and universities. Many times when people refused to pay up they were bombed. New Sabah added that it wasn’t just the Islamic State that was involved in these activities, but other insurgent groups as well. These are likely Ansar al-Sunna and the Naqshibandi that operate in the province.
As the insurgency was beaten back during the Surge and afterward, many militants moved into criminal activity since they lacked other skills and were not ready to join regular society. Now that the militants have made a come back, it’s obvious that these same operatives have expanded their mafia style techniques into more and more fields in Ninewa to fund their increased attacks not only there, but in surrounding areas as well. The government is fully aware of these acts, but has done nothing to stop them. That’s likely because the insurgents are so embedded in Mosul and the surrounding areas, and can operate with such impunity that no one dares stand up to them or face being killed. That’s why the main focus of attacks in the province is upon the security forces, local officials and businesses to keep them intimidated so that these extortion rings can continue uninterrupted. It’s likely that these operations will continue long after the insurgency, because they are so lucrative.
Iraq Times, “Corruption of hundreds of millions of dinars in salaries of employees of the local police and traffic in the province of Nineveh,” 3/12/14
New Sabah, “Armed groups earn money from imported food..and “royalties” on hot spots up to 8 million dollars a month,” 3/15/14
Niqash, “making themselves at home: al qaeda ups mafia-style extortion in mosul,” 11/7/13