WASHINGTON — Until this week, Kurdish forces were outgunned by the Islamic State fighters, variously referred to as ISIS and ISIL, they’re battling near Erbil.
Dr. Fuad Hussein, chief of staff to Kurdish Regional Government President Masood Barzani, told WTOP, “What we have is not comparable with what ISIS has. They have modern tanks and we’ve got old tanks. They’ve got all kinds of artillery and we’ve got less than them. They’ve got modern Humvees and we don’t have those modern Humvees, and we also don’t have rockets.”
A terror group with more firepower than the highly regarded Peshmerga is unnerving to many in the region. Widely regarded as some of the best forces in the region, they were no match for ISIL until the U.S. intervened with airstrikes.
The U.S. decision to send weapons has drawn widespread praise and commitments from France, Britain and other governments to assist.
A part of the reason for the Kurdish weapons deficit is the 2009 decision by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to effectively cut the flow of heavy weapons to the Kurds, because he feared reprisals against his own Shiite- led government.
In the interim, ISIL, taking advantage of the growing security vacuum, exploded as the new face of global terrorism in June, with jaw-dropping speed and financial backing.
“Their assets are estimated at about $2 billion,” said Karwan Zebari, director of the Kurdish Regional Government office in Washington. “They have up to 30,000- 50,000 forces that are fighting, either hardcore ISIS fighters or people affiliated with them.”
U.S. officials question the numbers, saying the brutal terror group is not as affluent as it seems because of their expenses.
“ISIL is among the wealthiest terrorist groups on the planet and could have as much several hundred million dollars in its coffers, but it also has significant expenses. The group’s incoming revenue stream tends to move out the door in the form of payments fairly quickly,” A U.S. counterterrorism official told WTOP.
The official said the profits come from a variety of criminal activities.
“ISIL’s revenue generating operations are fairly efficient so the group doesn’t need a lot of support from wealthy donors in the Gulf and North Africa. In fact, outside financial support pales in comparison to sums garnered from illicit activities such as extortion, kidnapping, robberies, and the like.”
The official said, “In areas under their influence, ISIL is merciless in shaking down local businesses for cash and routinely forces drivers to pay a road tax.”
ISIL has no political mandate or official base of operation and is recognized globally as a terrorist organization, but still has managed to seize and control one-third of Iraq’s territory.
That achievement is unprecedented, but also seemingly misinterpreted.
“It’s a mistake to call it a terrorist organization. It wants to be more than a terror organization. It owns territory,” said Robert Baer, a former CIA covert operative.
That’s something he points out al-Qaida was never able to achieve.
Baer believes the world is witnessing a “Sunni intifada.”
“We’re not facing a terrorist state, but a Sunni extremist state with popular appeal from Tripoli to Lebanon to Peshawar. It’s a virus that’s spread and it has a tremendous amount of appeal.”
The organization has allegedly established a well-ordered procedure to pay its fighters, provide security for its leaders, conduct commerce and plan a war.
That, according to an American intelligence source in Iraq, along with fighters from almost 80 countries allegedly pouring in, is speeding the billion-dollar organization toward the point when it can legitimately claim it has established a caliphate.