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Britain Unveils U.N. Containment Strategy for the Islamic State

Britain hopes a diplomatic initiative it introduced in the U.N. Security Council on Friday will contain Islamic extremists in Iraq and Syria by curtailing their fundraising. The plan is to quash their illicit oil and gold exports, prevent ransom kidnappings, and hobble recruitment to stymie the establishment of an Islamic caliphate straddling the two Middle ...

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Rami al-Sayed/ AFP/ Getty Images
Rami al-Sayed/ AFP/ Getty Images
Rami al-Sayed/ AFP/ Getty Images

Britain hopes a diplomatic initiative it introduced in the U.N. Security Council on Friday will contain Islamic extremists in Iraq and Syria by curtailing their fundraising. The plan is to quash their illicit oil and gold exports, prevent ransom kidnappings, and hobble recruitment to stymie the establishment of an Islamic caliphate straddling the two Middle Eastern countries.

The U.N. diplomacy unfolded as the United States intervened militarily and humanitarianly in Iraq, launching airstrikes against the Islamic State and airdropping food and water to trapped religious minorities.

The resolution, which was drafted with input from Washington and Paris, demands that the Islamic State, al-Nusra Front, and other al Qaeda affiliates "cease all atrocities and terrorist activities," and urges states to "cooperate in efforts to find and bring to justice the perpetrators, organizers and sponsors of terrorist acts."

Britain hopes a diplomatic initiative it introduced in the U.N. Security Council on Friday will contain Islamic extremists in Iraq and Syria by curtailing their fundraising. The plan is to quash their illicit oil and gold exports, prevent ransom kidnappings, and hobble recruitment to stymie the establishment of an Islamic caliphate straddling the two Middle Eastern countries.

The U.N. diplomacy unfolded as the United States intervened militarily and humanitarianly in Iraq, launching airstrikes against the Islamic State and airdropping food and water to trapped religious minorities.

The resolution, which was drafted with input from Washington and Paris, demands that the Islamic State, al-Nusra Front, and other al Qaeda affiliates "cease all atrocities and terrorist activities," and urges states to "cooperate in efforts to find and bring to justice the perpetrators, organizers and sponsors of terrorist acts."

It does not, however, propose using force.

Instead, the draft seeks to build on existing financial and travel sanctions on individuals and entities involved in supporting or funding the activities of the Islamist militants. The proposal asks other governments to "suppress the flow of foreign terrorists" to the battlefield by sharing intelligence on homegrown extremists and tightening up their borders.

Despite Security Council disagreements over other conflicts, the world body seems ready to confront the Middle East’s extremist movements. One council diplomat said: "This could fly" through for approval.

British diplomats first distributed the proposal earlier this week to the council’s other big powers — China, France, Russia, and the United States — but accelerated talks in response to the rapidly deteriorating situation in Iraq.

"There was deep alarm about the speed of events," Britain’s U.N. ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant, said Thursday.

On Friday, Britain, which leads the Security Council this month, convened a closed-door meeting of experts to review the proposal.

The draft resolution, which was obtained by Foreign Policy, deplores the "extremist ideology" of the Islamic State and accuses the group formerly known as ISIS of carrying out "gross, systematic and widespread abuses of human rights," including "mass executions and extrajudicial killings of Iraqi soldiers, targeted persecution of individuals on the basis of their religion or belief, kidnapping of civilians, forced displacement of members of minority groups, unlawful use of child soldiers, rape, arbitrary detention, and destruction of places of worship."

The proposal indirectly swipes at European governments that have paid massive ransoms to free their citizens from terrorists, particularly in North Africa and the Middle East. The money "funds future kidnappings and hostage-takings which creates more victims and perpetuates the problem."

As for the other illegal ways the Islamic State funds its operations, the drafts authors’ worry that aircraft leaving territory controlled by the Islamic State may be transferring gold and other valuables out of the country for sale on the international market. The group earns millions of dollars daily smuggling out stolen Iraqi oil through middlemen.

It also "condemns any direct or indirect trade involving" the terror groups, warning that anyone caught funding or doing business with the Islamic State could face U.N. sanctions.

Finally, it calls on a U.N. terrorist monitoring team to issue a detailed report on the nature of the threat posed by the Islamic State, including its sources of funding and weapons, within three months.

Colum Lynch was a staff writer at Foreign Policy between 2010 and 2022. Twitter: @columlynch

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