Conflict and Fragility

Reports and papers

The balance-sheet of conflict: criminal revenues and warlords in Syria

26 May 2015 - 14:44
Bron: Syrian fighters in Saqba, in Damascus / Freedom House / Flickr

The conflict in Syria is forging new forms of territorial control, and a political economy that is not unlike the patronage system that was previously fostered by the ruling Ba’ath party. As a result of the extended war efforts and the need for revenues to fund them, the national economy is now deeply affected by illicit
activities such as trade in antiquities, oil and drugs, as well as smuggling, kidnapping, looting and extrajudicial land expropriations.

Warlords and armed groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and Jabhat al-Nusra (or the al-Nusra Front) must fund their military campaigns. However, at the same time, they have to balance the extraction of local revenues with the loyalty of the civilian populations they control. At stake are their reputations and their abilities to raise money from foreign donors and to perpetuate their coercive governance. This paper proposes a rough estimate of the size of the funding streams used by loyalist and rebel militias. The paper also argues that the creeds and beliefs that initiated the conflict are no longer the sole motors of violence; indeed, greed is increasingly shaping the nature of hostilities and the strategies adopted by armed groups.

As a result, the framework proposed in the Geneva Communiqué for achieving peace in Syria is not likely to succeed alone in solving the conflict. Recent experiences in other countries   suggest that transitional political arrangements for the transfer of power are failing to dislodge war profiteering. Additional approaches to enable a progressive recovery of livelihoods and the provision of local services should be considered a key part of the peacebuilding process. It is also vital to consider other factors sustaining the war economy, including international sanctions and external funding.