The Slatest

ISIS’s Latest Weapon: Wheat

A farmer loads a truck with wheat near Makhmur, Iraq.

Photo by Youssef Boudial/Reuters

While a senior Pentagon official claimed Tuesday that the majority of oil refineries in ISIS-controlled territory in Syria have been destroyed by missile strikes, Reuters reports on another resource that helps the group maintain its foothold in the region: wheat.

The group now controls a large chunk of Iraq’s wheat supplies. The United Nations estimates land under IS control accounts for as much as 40 percent of Iraq’s annual production of wheat, one of the country’s most important food staples alongside barley and rice. …

The group has begun using the grain to fill its pockets, to deprive opponents – especially members of the Christian and Yazidi minorities – of vital food supplies, and to win over fellow Sunni Muslims as it tightens its grip on captured territory. In Iraq’s northern breadbasket, much as it did in neighboring Syria, IS has kept state employees and wheat silo operators in place to help run its empire.

Because of the logistics of the harvest in Iraq, many farmers who began delivering wheat to Mosul before the area was taken by militants remain unpaid for deliveries. And almost all of Iraq’s water comes from sources that run through ISIS-controlled areas, like the Euphrates and the Tigris, giving the group further control over farming. 

Along with crops and oil, ISIS revenue sources include taxes and donations from wealthy supporters in the Gulf states. The latter source is the target of crackdowns, but some counterterrorism experts say such measures are of limited use against the rest of the ISIS economy.