MESOPOTAMIA NEWS : THE PKK/PYD OIL FOR BASHAR AL ASSAD / And more on oil and SDF and Damascus – this article has details of oil trade between SDF/YPG & Damascus
Analysis – SDF reaps benefits of Damascus fuel crisis, but Arab tribes aren’t happy
By Paul Iddon 15 hours ago RUDAW – 4 May 2019 – With Syria gripped by its worst fuel crisis since the conflict began almost a decade ago, the future status of the country’s modest oil reserves is once again very relevant.
On April 23, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based conflict monitor, reported that “tens of trucks filled with fuel” arrived in regime-controlled territory from SDF-controlled parts of Deir ez-Zor in eastern Syria, where most of Syria’s oil reserves are located.
The SDF took control of Deir ez-Zor’s oilfields after capturing them from the Islamic State (ISIS).
These fuel shipments to the regime coincided with protests by local Arabs in Deir ez-Zor against the SDF. According to local sources cited by Reuters, the protests took place “in a string of towns, from Busayrah to Shuhail, in a strategic oil belt in the heart of Arab tribal territory, east of the Euphrates River.”
The protesters are against the SDF’s control of the region’s oil and its sale of oil to the regime. They blocked truck shipments of oil from the large al-Omar field and burned tires along the highway linking Deir ez-Zor to Hasaka.
The Syrian fuel crisis began in November after Iranian fuel shipments to the country were cut off by US sanctions directly targeting Iranian oil exports.
As Damascus relied heavily on Tehran for its energy needs, this has resulted in severe shortages that reduced its import from approximately 66,000 barrels of oil each day at the end of 2018 to zero by the beginning of this year. Importing oil from SDF-controlled areas, through middlemen, has become one of the few alternative options available to Damascus to at least partially alleviate the pressure.
Furthermore, the fact that the regime does not currently control the bulk country’s oil reserves once again brings their future status into question.
“The most logical way for Damascus to solve the fuel problem is to improve its relations with the Kurds,” Mutlu Civiroglu, a Syria and Kurdish affairs expert, told Rudaw English.
“The Kurdish-led SDF control the majority of Syria’s oil resources,” he said. “It’s therefore in the Syrian government’s own interests to improve relations with the Kurds.”
Civiroglu pointed out that Damascus has instead chosen to maintain a belligerent stance against the Kurds rather than acknowledging the sacrifices they have made defending Syria and its people from jihadist threats like ISIS.
“This attitude is not the solution and will not do any good for the Syrian government.”
Nicholas Heras, Middle East Security Fellow at the Center for a New American Security, notes that Syria’s oil reserves have been “steadily dwindling for the better part of two decades now, and Syria has never been a major player in the global oil market”.
“The Syrian oil does play a vital role in Syria’s internal economy, and without control over some of the best oil resources in Syria, the Assad regime is hamstrung,” he told Rudaw English.
“One of the reasons why the Assad regime and its allies have fought as hard as they have to maintain control over Palmyra is because of the important gas fields there, and the rising threat from ISIS in that region of Syria is a definite impediment for the regime.”
Heras points out that regime-controlled parts of Syria “are on the knife’s edge in regard to their energy security, and the US is trying to use the pressure that comes from not having control over oil resources as a weapon against the Assad regime”.
“The SDF will continue to send oil to regime-held areas. It’s too lucrative not to. But the United States will continue to try to limit the amount of oil that flows towards regime-held areas as part of the maximum pressure campaign against Assad and his regime,” he said.
While the US does not approve of the SDF selling oil to Damascus, since it partially eases the immense economic pressure on the regime, there is no indication it has taken steps to stop it. Washington likely understands the SDF’s need to generate revenues to govern the one-third of Syria it currently controls.
Damascus pays the SDF an average of $8 to $10 per barrel. This figure could increase to as much as $20 in the near future.
However, opposition from local Arabs in Deir ez-Zor is something the SDF will need to address to ensure a steady flow of oil to regime-controlled areas is not disrupted and to avoid facing mounting opposition that could result in it losing control over these oilfields altogether.
“The SDF is strong and capable of defending these resources,” Civiroglu said, adding he believes Damascus “has a hand” in the recent anti-SDF protests in Deir ez-Zor.
On May 3, the SDF held a forum attended by representatives of 70 clans and tribes from the areas it administers. This clearly came in response to the signs of growing fragmentation in the alliance now that the ad hoc objective which once united them, the destruction of ISIS, has been achieved.
Some prominent Arab tribes within the SDF have already begun cutting their own deals with Damascus.
“The local population in Deir ez-Zor wants to control the oil resources of the province, which it did after Assad left and before ISIS arrived,” Heras said. “Local tribes in Deir ez-Zor are protesting because these tribes believe that they should profit from the oil trade out of their province and do not want to share those revenues with the SDF.”
“Deir ez-Zor is a poor, mainly agricultural province, and even one productive oil well can make millions of dollars for a local tribe and its leaders, and the tribes want to go back to the old way before ISIS when they controlled the oil and the money that comes with it.”