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Turkey’s `Barter’ Deal with the Islamic State

Last week, Turkey successfully freed the 47 of its people who had been held as hostages for months by the Islamic State in Mosul, Iraq. Ankara described the operation as an “intelligence rescue mission” in which no shots were fired. As MEB reported last week, Turkey’s AKP government had earlier blocked the Turkish Armed Forces from mounting a rescue operation weeks ago, in part, to deprive the military of a high-profile success. While some news accounts reported that the Turkish diplomats and family members held by the Islamic State since their raid on the Turkish mission in Mosul were freed in a prisoner exchange, the reality is quite different.
In return for the Islamic State releasing the 47 “guests” the group was holding, the Turkish government has deepened its role in providing “barter” financing to the Islamic State. The black market oil smuggling from northeastern Syrian areas under IS control into Turkey is generating an estimated $2 million a day in revenue for the Islamic State, with much of the oil being sold onto the world markets.
Between 100,000 and 250,000 barrels a day are passing through the porous Syria-Turkey border via the smuggling routes. The Turkish MIT and a network of black market smugglers allied with the ruling AKP are at the center of this extensive smuggling operation—which could not possibly function without backing from the circles of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. MIT chief Hakan Fidan is part of the AKP-Erdogan inner circle.
IS is selling the oil to Turkish smugglers for $50 per barrel, a 40-50 percent discount. A similar “barter” arrangement involves other commodities, including beef and other agricultural products from the IS-controlled areas of northern Iraq. Some of those smuggled products are being sold through Turkish firms to buyers in the Persian Gulf states. Some of the Syrian crude oil being smuggled through underground pipelines into southern Turkey is being passed, through a complex of sales in Iraq and even Iran, ultimately winding up in European markets.
As many as 100,000 head of cattle have been sold through the IS-Turkey route, generating significant revenues for the Iraq and Syria-based Islamic State.
Following the release of the Turkish “hostages,” US officials, led by Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, have been pressing the Erdogan-Davutoglu government in Ankara to boost support for the allied operations against the Islamic State. But so far, there has been no progress in getting the Turks to drop the support for the Islamists. Turkey has also provided similar support to the Al Nusra Front, which further complicates Washington’s efforts to stand up “vetted” rebel forces to fight against IS and the Bashar Al Assad government.
When President Obama was briefed on the evidence of Turkish support for the Islamic State and the Al Nusra Front, he was reportedly “stunned,” given his one-time close personal relationship with Erdogan. US intelligence officials presented the President with a detailed profile of the AKP’s “sympathies” for the Islamists. As the result of these briefings, the once close relations between President Obama and now President Ergodan have gone sour.

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