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ISIS cannot be defeated without addressing corrupt conditions in which they thrive

21st February 2017

21st February 2017, London – Western governments that ignore corruption are failing to address the root causes of violent extremist movements, such as ISIS, according to new research by Transparency International Defence and Security (TI-DS).

“The Big Spin” found that organisations including ISIS take advantage of corruption in their efforts to recruit and retain disillusioned members, even as they use corrupt practices to channel funds and smuggle arms, drugs, and people. Corruption also can dramatically weaken state institutions, rendering them ineffective in the face of the threat from extremist groups.

The research features a new analysis of post-revolutionary Libya, and the subsequent rise of militant groups. Of the 150 former and current fighters interviewed, almost two thirds believed the post-revolution period was no less corrupt than the Gaddafi era. Sources confirmed ISIS has engaged in bribery with officials in Libya and Egypt to exchange commodities, and has bought weapons using drugs, whilst ISIS members have been seen driving luxury cars in Libya.

Despite their own corrupt activities, a study of ISIS and their supporters’ social media posts found a repeated use of corruption in their public narratives. The strategy reflects public anger against abuse of power by corrupt elites, whilst positioning ISIS as the antidote. Foreign influences were also found to be targets of this rhetoric, to strengthen anti-invasion sentiment.
The fall of Mosul in 2014 was also a defining moment in the role corruption played in the rise of ISIS. The group exploited an Iraqi military so rife with corruption that less than half of the registered soldiers were on hand to resist ISIS, with the missing thousands being no more than “ghost soldiers” whose wages were pocketed by corrupt officers.

Katherine Dixon, Director Transparency International Defence and Security, said:

“Corruption is a rallying cry, an enabler and a key modus operandi for ISIS. The failure to grasp this undermines efforts to tackle the rise of violent extremism.”

“The international community expends great efforts tackling the ‘ideology’ of groups such as ISIS, focusing on the religious rhetoric they produce, yet completely ignoring the material circumstances in which they thrive.”

“This is not just about closing off the corrupt channels that enable the day-to-day operations of groups like ISIS, but rethinking relationships with the Mubaraks, Gaddafis and Malakis of the future. Corruption is a real security threat, more than just a means for elites to line their pockets. In the end corrupt governments by fuelling public anger and undermining institutions, are the architects of their own security crises.”


Dominic Kavakeb
+44 20 7096 7695
+44 796 456 0340