RAQQA– The US and European Union states have once again narrowly voted to renew targeted sanctions against the Islamic State (still commonly known as ISIS). In a press conference on Monday morning, US Secretary of State once again reiterated that sanctions would be removed as soon as the Islamic State complies with an agreement which would give the territories they control in Syria special status. ISIS leaders, meanwhile, called the sanctions “counter-productive” and promised “reciprocal measures” against those countries who support the sanctions regime.
Targeted sanctions were first imposed on ISIS following alleged attacks on the Yezidi minority in Iraq, attacks which the ISIS leadership has consistently denied.
“The Yezidi heretics were not killed by our people, but local farmers and tractor drivers who are fed up with Baghdad’s tolerance for heresy,” said an ISIS spokesperson in 2014, when news of the massacre broke.
The initial sanctions targeted key individuals in leadership of ISIS, but excluded family members. The sanctions were expanded later the same year when new allegations of ethic cleansing, sexual slavery, and beheadings of Yezidis and Christians surfaced. Not only was the list of travel bans and asset freezes expanded to include more members of the ISIS leadership, but new measures were put in place to limit ISIS’ access to Western financial markets and oil-drilling technology. Such sanctions are expected to severely limit ISIS’ ability to compete economically.
Yet in spite of the sanctions, many American and European banks and companies still do business with the self-proclaimed Caliphate. Timothy Hedges is a director of a London brokerage who says he still does a lot of business with ISIS.
“I don’t believe in letting politics get in the way of business,” Hedges said.
“Look, we live in a capitalist world, a free market world. These ISIS chaps have got money to invest and we’ve got people here who want to invest money there. You can’t let political rhetoric get in the way of that.”
But it’s not just money that’s changing hands when it comes to trade between ISIS and the West. A recent expose on British television shows how real estate agents in London sell luxury property to ISIS members, promising to protect their clients’ identity. On video one realtor is seen advising the undercover journalist posing as an ISIS official to create a special holding company that will officially own a London flat worth over 4 million pounds.
The ISIS presence is noticeable not only in London, but also in New York, where the son of one of ISIS’ propaganda networks has found himself an upscale apartment in gentrified Brooklyn. Ali, 24, laughed when asked about the sanctions on the Islamic State.
“Sanctions? What sanctions? Here I am living among the infidels in their greatest city,” Ali said.
“There are hundreds of us here. Same in London. The sanctions are a joke!”
Now that the sanctions have been in place for two years, continually renewed every six months, there have been signs of weakening resolve among the European states, many of which carried out lucrative trade with ISIS. Fringe politicians from Italy, Belgium, and France have spoken out against the sanctions, calling for them to be removed. Giovanni Buffone is a member of the Veneto parliament and one of the most fervent critics of the sanctions regime.
“We have carried out very lucrative trade with the Caliphate for many years now,” Buffone noted.
“But now because our weak leaders won’t stand up to the will of Washington, we will surely lose business. Is the safety of Iraq really worth it?”
Buffone’s statement is just one example of a growing number of voices in the business world calling for a removal of the sanctions regime.
It is not clear whether the sanctions will be renewed again in six months, but each time US officials have reminded ISIS that they will remove the sanctions as soon as ISIS fulfills its part of the peace agreement. ISIS, on the other hand, insists that it is not a party to the conflict in Iraq and Syria, and accuses the US and NATO of trying to encircle the “Islamic World.”