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Thursday, December 17

Tip for President Putin: Look back even earlier, to the UN Oil for Food Program

Russia's president is starting to play Sherlock Holmes. Today Sputnik published a report headlined Oil Smuggling in Middle East on Huge Scale - Putin:
A large-scale scheme for oil smuggling has been established in the Middle East, Russian President Vladimir Putin said [on December 17]:
"You know, I am looking and analyzing everything that was happening there and what is happening there now. I think [Islamic State] is a secondary thing now," Putin said at his annual press conference.
 The Russian leader reminded of the vacuum that was created after the war in Iraq.
"Then elements emerged related to the oil trade. And this situation has been unfolding for years. A business was established there, smuggling on huge, industrial scale. Then in order to protect this smuggling and illegal export, military force is needed. It is very easy to use the Islamic factor, attract cannon fodder there under Islamic slogans, who are only playing a role linked to economic interests," Putin explained.
For many weeks I've been harboring a suspicion, which I finally voiced on this blog, almost in passing, on November 27 in a post about the attack in Mali:
... the more I learn about Islamic State's oil trade, the more I hear myself muttering, "Why does this remind me of the UN Oil For Food Program?"
Guess who knew everything to know about how that incredibly corrupt program, which involved scores of governments, worked? The very men who set up Islamic State.

So the more I learn, the more I'm wondering whether IS is just a Get Rich Quick scheme in caliphate drag. We'll soon find out, if Russian and Syrian forces manage to seal the Syrian border with Turkey.
But I didn't want to start playing the Dotty game so I let it go. There are plenty of dots out there; if the connections between them aren't made from hard evidence or sound circumstantial evidence the result is another conspiracy theory. Yet now that the leader of a country is on the case, and Russia's intelligence agencies would be in a position to dig deep, I think it's time to wonder whether Islamic State is a grand illusion with the UN Oil for Food Program as its inspiration. 

The people in Saddam Hussein's government who made the program work, and managed to hide for years that it was an outright scam, would have known how to set up and manage a variation of the scam. What's more they would have had contacts with corrupt UN and foreign government officials who cooperated in the scam. 

What kind of Muslims would use Islam to create a grand illusion to cover up a get rich quick scheme? 

I am haunted by a strange discovery made by the Syrian rebels who killed the IS mastermind known as Haji Bakr. When they searched his house they couldn't find a Koran.

(See the famous April 18, 2015 SPIEGEL report.)

The discovery got even stranger when Bakr's pivotal role in the creation of Islamic State was discovered. 
Strange indeed that there was no Koran in his house, when one considers IS was set up to reel in Muslim holy rollers. 

So, maybe the kind of Muslims would be those who'd turned against God and Islam. That could easily fit with Haji Bakr's history and the history of other former top officers in Saddam's regime who formed the core of Islamic State leadership. 

At the least those men were deeply embittered. They had lost everything when the U.S. de-Baathified the military: their salaries, pensions, savings, status in society, probably also their property -- and even found themselves imprisoned in some cases.  

And there is indication they had lost their faith in Islam, to the extent they had any, even before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The Washington Post's Liz Sly filed a report earlier this year that included mention of the sadism of Saddam's inner circle, which became a hallmark of Islamic State. It seems that in the latter years of Saddam's regime they took topping each other in sadistic acts.

That would tend to suggest the former officers who set up Islamic State weren't religious.  

(See The hidden hand behind the Islamic State militants? Saddam Hussein’s; April 4, which may or may not have been an attempt to scoop the SPIEGEL April 18 report.)

My chain of reasoning is still speculative, of course, but it's why I cling to a hope that we could see a sudden collapse of Islamic State in Syria. If the big money isn't there any longer in oil smuggling in Syria, the IS brass would move to more lucrative pickings if their real goal is simply to make fortunes for themselves. Granted, this could hold true even without the UNOFFP angle.  

And if a citizen reporter in Raqqa for the "Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently" website isn't talking completely through his hat, it seems that the IS commanders in Raqqa have been reduced by all the air raids on Raqqa to outsourcing much of the oil smuggling business to penny-ante dealers and taxing them. 

(See Bombing the oil sources of ISIS is not giving its results, November 30, 2015)

That would be no way to rake in billions in hard currency to create personal fortunes, considering the overhead for IS, which includes fielding a large mercenary army.  

The great cost of maintaining and replacing the fighters, which includes signing bonuses, could shed light on the mysterious Battle of Sinjar. There are conflicting versions of the battle, which Associated Press did a great job of explaining in the November 17 reportKurdish commanders say many Islamic State fighters fled in recapture of Iraq's Sinjar.  

The really queer part of the story is that it's possible IS fighters had been ordered to leave Sinjar before the battle, meaning there was no battle.  

It's a long story as you can learn from the AP report, but I mention it because if the fiercest turf battles between IS and groups such as Nusra have actually been about oil transport routes, this would suggest the organization is all about oil smuggling, and the caliphate is just window dressing.

Of course another explanation is that only large-scale oil smuggling could support the IS government and expansion plans for a genuine caliphate.

The tiebreaker would be that whether or not Islamic State was conceived as a caliphate or scam, it depends on the same bottom line as the UN Oil for Food Program: corrupt government officials and illegal front companies in several countries. 

Which returns us to President Putin's speculation.  

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