US-SDF oil deals | A means to strengthening US presence in Syria
As regional and international powers are fervently trying to obtain the largest possible share of Syria’s spoils, the USA has surprised all through renewing contracts and striking new deals concerning the petroleum sector in eastern Euphrates region.
With the encouragement of Washington, Syria Democratic Forces and “Delta Crescent Energy”, seemingly an ad-hoc American oil company, brokered a new deal in late July 2020 after long-term talks between the two sides. The new agreement stipulates maintaining, developing and modernizing oil fields in SDF-held areas, in addition to providing two mobile refineries which are planned to process nearly 20,000 barrels of crude oil per day. It is worth noting that the company in question had been in talks for a long time in order to be licensed by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to operate in Syria.
The Syrian Observatory believes that the deal between the American company and the Autonomous Administration in SDF-held areas is based on several factors, most prominent of which are the following:
The US desire to control Syria’s oil, as most of oil fields are located in Deir Ezzor and Al-Hasakah provinces in north and east Syria. Most of these oil fields used to be under the control of the “Islamic State” organization, before Syria Democratic Forces captured them and expelled ISIS members to the desert enclave in Al-Baghouz area.
US government’s efforts to exclusively get the largest possible revenue from Syria’s oil industry are designed to brush aside and marginalise competitors in Syria , both international like Russia, and regional like Iran and Turkey. Such efforts were noticeable when the US Department of Defense “Pentagon” announced in October 2019 new plans to strengthen US military presence in Syria under the pretext of protecting oil fields in Syria’s north-eastern parts and not allowing them to fall under ISIS control once again. It is worth noting that this announcement came after “Trump” declared, on several occasions, his intention to fully pull out US troops from Syria.
Moreover, US government is paving the way for a permanent presence in Syria so that it can have the upper hand and dominate the paths that the future geopolitical changes in Syria will go through. The US has put considerable efforts into achieving those goals and some of those efforts are reflected in the following:
- US forces have established a new airbase in Al-Ya’rabiyyah area in the eastern countryside of Al-Hasakah.
- Another US military base was established in early February 2020 in Tal Barrak village, located at nearly 40 km away from Al-Hasakah city.
- US forces stationed in Deir Ezzor province have turned a building in Ghuwayran neighbourhood in Al-Hasakah into a military post, so that they can block the route of Russian troops to a prominent centre for producing oil in Syria in Al-Rumaylan oil field in the north-eastern countryside of Al-Hasakah.
On the other hand, US government, which claims that it backs and provides full support to SDF, uses its allies in Syria as a leverage against the Syrian regime in order to force it to comply with demands which meet the US interests in Syria. In addition, Washington seeks to widen the gap between Al-Qamishli and Damascus (Autonomous Administration and regime government) on one hand, and exhaust the Syrian regime through a political step to acknowledge the Autonomous Administration on the other, especially after putting “Caesar Act” in force, which has led to cutting the regime’s ties with war lords who mediated the transport of oil to Homs and Baniyas refineries in regime-controlled areas.
Regional and international reactions to U.S. oil deals
The U.S. oil investment deal with SDF in the eastern Euphrates region has sparked angry reactions by the Syrian regime, which announced in a statement published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on its official Facebook page on August 2, 2020. The statementreads:
“The Syrian Arab Republic condemns in the strongest terms the agreement signed between al-Qasad militias (SDF) and an American oil company to steal Syria’s oil under the sponsorship and support of the American administration. This agreement is a complete theft, and can only be described as a deal between thieves stealing and buying, and an attack on Syrian sovereignty and a continuation of the U.S. hostile approach to Syria, by stealing the wealth of the Syrian people and hindering the Syrian state’s efforts to rebuild what was destroyed by terrorism, which is mostly supported by the American administration itself.”
As for rival regional and international powers in Syria, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said that “this agreement is against international law and violates Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
On July 29, 2020, the Syrian Observatory monitored the deployment of the Iraqi Hizbollah forces in al-Mayadeen desert in Deir al-Zour, accompanied by military vehicles, expanding their influence in Deir al-Zour by recruiting youths and providing assistance to the people of the region to woo them. It is worth nothing that the attitude in Deir ez-Zor towards this deal is different from the rest of SDF-held areas, as people reject the SDF presence and its dominance in decision-making in the areas east of the Euphrates.
In light of these developments, Observatory sources have documented the outbreaks of tension in Deir ez-Zor and human losses, particularly among oil workers.
While Russia and Turkey have merely criticised the U.S. oil deal with SDF, this may be due to the fact that the two sides are attempting to obtain shares in this company or they already have shares in it.
On the other hand, U.S. support for SDF is a serious concern for Ankara, which interprets the deal as a sign of secession of SDF-held areas from the Syrian motherland, and a core to form a state beyond the Turkish interests, and threatens Turkish national security along the border with Syria. This has led to escalating Turkish attacks on SDF, and was a turning point in Turkish-U.S. relations.
Overall, it seems that the U.S. desire for striking deals and contracts in Syria is a part of a systematic policy of draining and seizing the resources and wealth of the Syrian people and strengthening the American presence in the country.
And this is what Washington seeks in order to gain an advantage over its competitors in Syria and to get a reward for its presence, by exploiting contradictory interests between rival powers such as its support for the Kurds against the regime and its support for Turkey against Russia and Iran, but ultimately aims to maximize its gains with the least possible losses.