Who actually wins ISIS in Syria

Who is funding ISIS?

When the northern Iraqi city of Mosul was captured, the fighters of the ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria) captured 500 billion Iraqi dinars, the equivalent of more than 420 million US dollars, from the local central bank. The group should now have a total of around two billion dollars for their "holy war". Exactly where the money comes from is, however, controversial.

Accused Saudi Arabia: Iraq's Prime Minister al-Maliki

Iraq's Shiite government accuses Saudi Arabia of supporting the ISIS fighters. "We hold Saudi Arabia responsible" - for the financial and moral support that ISIS has received, said Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Tuesday (June 17, 2014).

The US, Saudi Arabia's ally, rejects the allegations made by Iraq's prime minister. The statement was "inaccurate and offensive," said Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for the US State Department on Tuesday evening.

Money from the Gulf States?

"There is no public evidence that the government of a state is involved in the creation or financing of ISIS as an organization," says Charles Lister, visiting researcher at the Brookings Doha Center, an offshoot of the US think tank Brookings Institution in the Gulf emirate Qatar.

Günter Meyer, who heads the Center for Research on the Arab World at the University of Mainz, has no doubts about the flow of money. "The most important source of funding so far has been support from the Gulf States, especially Saudi Arabia, but also Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates," Meyer told Deutsche Welle.

The motivation of the Sunni Gulf states was the fight of ISIS against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, said Meyer. Three quarters of the Syrian population are Sunni Muslims, and the country is ruled by the Alawi minority, a branch of Shiite Islam.

Meanwhile, however, the government of Saudi Arabia is also aware of the dangers. "Saudis now represent the largest contingent of foreign fighters in ISIS. If these fighters come back, there is a risk that they will turn against the Saudi regime," said Meyer. However, there is reason to believe that the flow of funding from Saudi Arabia will continue, "less from the Saudi government, but from rich Saudis."

Money through oil and extortion

Meyer mentions oil fields in northern Syria as the second important source of funding for ISIS. "ISIS has managed to bring these sources under its control. It then takes the oil across the border to Turkey by truck, which is an important financial source."

"Financial opportunities": Günter Meyer from the University of Mainz

According to Charles Lister of the Brookings Doha Center, ISIS is able to finance itself for the most part. "Isis has tried to establish networks in society in order to generate a permanent flow of money." As an example, Lister cites systematic blackmail in the now conquered city of Mosul.

"Affected are small business people and large companies, construction companies and, if the rumors are true, even local government officials," Lister told DW. "It is also believed that the organization levies taxes in areas it fully controls - for example in Raqqa in northeast Syria."

Günter Meyer from the Center for Research on the Arab World in Mainz, on the other hand, believes that the possibility of money flowing to ISIS from the Iraqi ex-dictator Saddam Hussein is out of the question. The goals are too different for that. Although both wanted to overthrow the Shiite government in Iraq, ISIS then wants to establish an Islamic state of God, while the Sunnis from Hussein's Baath party want to establish a secular democracy.

Money for jihad

The greatest financial coup of ISIS was surely the plunder of the central bank in Mosul, which brought in 429 million dollars. Other banks in Mosul and other controlled areas have also been robbed, Meyer said. With the money, ISIS could "buy a lot of jihad," tweeted British Syria blogger Eliot Higgins under his pseudonym Moses Brown. "With $ 429 million, ISIS could pay 60,000 fighters $ 600 a month for a year."

It is estimated that ISIS currently has around 10,000 fighters. How the organization spends its money, however, is not exactly documented. "It is assumed that ISIS will at least pay for the foreign fighters in their ranks, but perhaps also for the entire troops," said Charles Lister. "In areas it controls, the organization subsidizes bread, water and fuel, and it finances the repair and operation of basic public services there. All of this costs money."

ISIS will probably also put the money into military armament, says Günter Meyer. When conquering Mosul, the ISIS fighters have already captured many US weapons and vehicles. "With the financial means it is now easy to obtain more excellent weapons on the international market."