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How Is ISIS Funding Its War?

ARUN RATH, HOST:

The United States' latest military operation in Iraq is getting bigger. In an effort to drive back the Islamic State, the U.S. has expanded airstrikes from Kurdish regions in the north into the Sunni heartland of Anbar Province. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said, the latest strikes were intended to keep the strategic Haditha Dam out of the hands of Isis.

The White House is also considering using airstrikes against Isis fighters in Syria. This morning, President Obama told NBC's "Meet the Press" that the U.S. would be, quote, "going on some offense."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We are going to systematically degrade their capabilities. We're going to shrink territory that they control. And ultimately, we're going to defeat them.

RATH: The president also said, he will address the nation later this week to explain his strategy to defeat Isis. NPR's Middle East correspondent Deb Amos joins me now from Istanbul. Deb, what is the goal of these expanded airstrikes in Iraq?

DEB AMOS, BYLINE: Well, in particular, it was the Haditha Dam, which is very important to Iraq. It's a desert country, so that water is for agriculture. It's drinking water. It's been under threat for about six months. And there was the worry, of course, that under Isis control, it's possible to open the floodgates - flood Baghdad by releasing all that water. Although it's more likely that what Isis wanted was the dam to supply electricity to areas under their control.

RATH: And, Deb, what can you tell us about Isis's finances? You know, here, from a distance in the U.S., it seems like the whole world is against this group, but they seem to have quite a bit of cash, right?

AMOS: These are the financial tycoons of terrorism. They are the wealthiest militant group in the world. They're taking a page from Al-Qaeda's methods of finances, but they're taking it a few steps further. What they have done is they've got extortion schemes, kidnapping for ransom, selling antiquities, but the huge cash cow is looted crude oil, mostly from Syria. Now they've got a boost because they've crossed the border, and they've seized Iraqi oilfields. Oil analysts say that somewhere between one and three million barrels a day is what Isis and moving, both internally - between Syria and Iraq - and outside.

RATH: Who are they able to sell that to? I mean, I have to imagine that there would be some sort of restrictions on terrorist groups making money off oil like that.

AMOS: Yes, of course, there is. But there is a huge black market. And if you can get paperwork - and, you know, it just takes a corrupt official to be able to get that paperwork - you can move that oil. There's a lot of calls from the U.N., from Congress to shut down their financial networks. It's a very hard thing to do because it's so widespread.

RATH: Finally, NATO is reaffirming it's commitment to funding moderate Syrian rebel groups who are fighting Isis. But are those groups in any position to put up a real fight?

AMOS: It's a very good question. These so-called moderates in Syria - they've been fighting Isis for more than a year. They're also fighting the regime, and they are under huge pressure in the Syrian city of Aleppo. There are many analysts - and rebels themselves say that the loss of Aleppo would finish off those moderate forces.

You know, Congress has not approved the money that the Obama administration has asked to fund arms and training for the moderate rebels. Washington time is different than Syrian time. By the time Washington gets around to it, there may not be a rebel force on the ground that can work with Western forces against Isis. It's possible that what we would see in Syria is a conflict that pits the regime against Isis, and that changes the calculations in Syria.

RATH: NPR Middle East correspondent Deb Amos. Deb, thank you.

AMOS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.