Speaking at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Undersecretary of the Treasury David Cohen has threatened to impose sanctions on any people could buying oil from ISIS.
In taking large portions of Syria’s oil-producing east and several oil fields in Iraq, ISIS has carved out a de facto state with a lot of oil wealth, and in addition to refining it for domestic use, they’ve reportedly been bankrolling their ongoing expansion by selling it at substantially below market values to middlemen.
These middlemen, Turkish and Kurdish buyers who smuggle the oil into their own territory, make a tidy profit. Cohen says such sanctions would be a chance to stop ISIS getting money that way.
The US air war, particularly in Syria, has focused on blowing up oil refineries and grain silos, trying to damage the internal ISIS economy. Yet ISIS territory also contains many millions of civilians, and oil exports are their economic lifeline as well. Preventing commerce may harm ISIS, but it is the sort of inexact warfare that stands to damage many others as well.