UN Security Council Adopts Resolution Banning Trade with Jihadist Groups

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Published Thursday, February 12, 2015

The United Nations Security Council on Thursday banned all trade in antiquities from war-torn Syria, threatened sanctions on anyone buying oil from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front militants, and urged states to stop paying kidnap ransoms.

The 15-nation council unanimously adopted the Russian-drafted resolution, which falls under chapter seven of the UN charter.

The resolution is legally binding and gives the council authority to enforce decisions with economic sanctions. It does not however authorize using military force.

Russia drafted the first outline of the measure, which reaffirms the council's resolve to choke off millions of dollars in earnings from oil sales, antiquities trafficking and ransom payments to ISIS.

The measure urges all 193 countries of the United Nations to take "appropriate steps" to prevent the trade in cultural property from Iraq and Syria and directs the UN cultural agency UNESCO to help put in place a ban.

It also reminds governments worldwide that they must "prevent terrorists from benefiting directly or indirectly from ransom payments or political concessions" to secure the release of hostages.

That provision was directed at European governments, which have found ways to circumvent the ban on paying ransoms to win the release of captive nationals, but also at Turkey, which exchanged in October 180 convicted jihadists for the release of Turkish hostages.

The resolution builds on other measures adopted by the council to clamp down on ISIS revenue streams and combines them into a single effort to hit at jihadist financing.

Plundering antiquities

Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammed Ali al-Hakim, said the fall of Mosul to ISIS fighters last year had generated a revenue boon for the jihadists from the looting of art and archeological treasures.

"Mosul is a historic city, the University of Mosul is one of the oldest. It has art and treasures and these were all stolen," said al-Hakim.

"They are not only looting, they are chopping down walls" of ancient buildings, he told AFP.

The UN measure has the potential to upset links between the jihadists and organized crime rings operating in eastern Europe, Turkey and Jordan, he said.

ISIS spearheaded a sweeping militant offensive that has overrun much of the country, and has proceeded to burn precious manuscripts and archives and destroy sites it considers idolatrous or heretical, such as shrines and churches in Mosul — second-largest city in Iraq — Tikrit and other areas of Iraq it controls and excavated sites to sell objects abroad.

The militants gained some experience of dealing in antiquities after taking control of large parts of Syria, but when they captured the northern Iraqi city of Mosul and the Nineveh province in June, they gained access to almost 2,000 of Iraq's 12,000 registered archaeological sites.

Earlier this month, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voiced concern over reports of mass book-burning in Iraq, saying it would be one of the most "devastating" such actions in history if confirmed.

Referring to reports that thousands of books on philosophy, law, science and poetry had been torched in recent weeks, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said it was part of a campaign of "cultural cleansing."

UNESCO said the "armed extremists in Iraq" were targeting "cultural heritage, cultural and religious minorities, and the documents and written evidence of one of the oldest civilizations in human history."

In September, at a conference at the UN cultural agency UNESCO in Paris to warn of the risk to Iraq's heritage, Qais Hussein Rasheed, head of the Baghdad Museum, said organized groups were working in coordination with ISIS.

"It's an international artifacts' mafia," he told reporters. "They identify the items and say what they can sell," he said. Since some of these items were more than 2,000 years old it was difficult to know exactly their value.

Citing local officials still in ISIS-controlled areas, Rasheed said the biggest example of looting so far had taken place at the 9th century B.C. grand palace at Kalhu of the Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal II.

"Assyrian tablets were stolen and found in European cities," he said. "Some of these items are cut up and sold piecemeal," he said, referring to a tablet of a winged bull.

Another Iraqi official, who declined to give his name, said artifacts were also being dug up, and that neighboring states such as Jordan and Turkey needed to do more to stop such items from crossing their borders.

"Things are getting across our borders and into auction houses abroad," he said, adding "unfortunately many of the proceeds of these artifacts will be used to finance terrorism."

Iraq's heritage already suffered a major blow in the lawlessness and looting that followed the US invasion to topple dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, when looters torched buildings and ran off with treasures thousands of years old.

Jihadist militants, whose strict Salafi interpretation of Islam deems the veneration of tombs and non-Islamic vestiges to be idolatrous, have destroyed tombs, mosques and churches and burned precious manuscripts and archives.

In January, Nusra blew up the 13th century tomb of revered Islamic scholar Imam Nawawi in the southern Syrian province of Deraa near the Jordanian border, which Nusra captured parts of in November.

In December, the UN said in a report citing satellite evidence that nearly 300 cultural heritage sites have been destroyed, damaged and looted in Syria since 2011.

Detailed analysis of satellite imagery of 290 locations at these sites showed 24 of them had been destroyed, 104 severely damaged, 85 moderately damaged and 77 possibly damaged.

Bokova called at the time for the creation of "protected cultural zones" to save heritage sites in conflict-torn Iraq and Syria.

According to Bokova, efforts should start with the "highly iconic site" of the Umayyad mosque in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo.

Resolution to cut off oil routes

US Ambassador Samantha Power described the Security Council resolution as "robust" in providing governments worldwide with "clear practical instructions" on preventing oil smuggling.

Hakim, the Iraqi envoy, said the resolution spelled out measures to combat ISIS financing on several fronts and obliged all countries to report on the measures they are taking within 120 days.

Described as the world's wealthiest "terror" group, ISIS no longer relies on wealthy donors from Gulf states and has become financially self-sustained in both Iraq and Syria, earning $850,000 to $1.65 million per day from black market oil sales alone.

The returns of oil trade contribute to the expansion of recruitment of these extremist groups.
The resolution would put fresh pressure on Turkey, seen as a transit point for oil deliveries, with trucks often returning to Iraq or Syria with refined products.

The council in August adopted a resolution to cut off sources of financing and the flow of foreign fighters to Iraq and Syria, warning countries that if they traded oil with the jihadists they could face sanctions.

However, the flow of foreign jihadists has increased with thousands of volunteers from all over the world joining ISIS and other extremist groups.

The resolution comes after President Barack Obama asked Congress to grant him war powers against ISIS and after Jordan stepped up its role in the US-led coalition in response to the murder of one of its pilots at the hands of the jihadists.

The US-led anti-ISIS coalition has been bombing Iraq since September and has so far billed Iraq $260 million, despite failure to stop the advance of militants.

However, the air campaign, which Washington says aims to degrade ISIS' military capability, remains the subject of debate, with critics pointing to ISIS' advances and battlefield successes despite the raids.

The expansion of terrorist groups in Iraq raises questions about the effectiveness of the US anti-terrorism campaign since 2001.

The United States invaded Iraq in 2003 using the pretext of “fighting terrorism” and claiming that Saddam owned weapons of mass destruction.

The war aimed to eliminate al-Qaeda in Iraq, but the terrorist group didn't exist in the country until after the invasion. The US invasion served as a recruitment tool for terrorist groups, as figures show that terrorism rose precipitously in Iraq since 2003.

The war aimed to “free Iraqis” but instead killed at least half a million Iraqis and left the country in total turmoil.

(Reuters, AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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