Alwaght- Republican Senator Lindsey Graham last week said that the US company Delta Crescent Energy has signed an agreement with Syrian democratic Forces (SDF) militia in northeast Syria to produce and market the self-proclaimed autonomous region’s oil. The contract also will include the development of oilfields, sources familiar with the case said.
Following the remarks by the Republican Senate leader, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed the deal, saying that the agreement was signed with Mazloum Kobani, the commander of the SDF.
Both the Americans and Kurds have said that the main aim behind the deal was to update and develop the oil production sites and facilities in northwestern Syria.
But with a look at recent US moves and also the battleground equations, there can be talks about White House secret plans that can influence the Syrian future. Two main drives seem to stand behind the oil agreement with the Syrian Kurds:
Squeezing the Syrian government’s financial resources
Syria has about 2.5 billion oil barrels in reserves, mainly existing in the provinces of Hasakah and Deir ez-Zor. In the years before the crisis started in Syria, oil sales were the key source of income for the Syrian government. But when the home conflict started in 2012, a large part of the oilfields fell to the hands of ISIS first as it emerged in the Arab country with foreign support and then the Kurdish militias took the oil facilities from the terrorist group. The loss of oil revenues so far dealt great blows to the Syrian government economically.
Syria’s oil production per day in 2008 was 406,000 barrels. In 2011, it fell to 353,000 barrels and in 2018 it was just 24,000, which means an over 90 percent decrease. While oil production of the crisis-hit country is trivial now, the US seems to have plans to loot a large portion of the Syrian oil by direct support to the Kurdish oil production and sales.
The SDF forces currently control about 70 percent of the Syrian oil reserves, as well as gas reserves, including the Al-Omar oilfield that until 2011 produced 80,000 oil barrels every day. Al-Tanak oilfield produced 40,000 oil barrels daily. Al-Sweidyah and Al-Rumayla oilfields with 1322 oil wells and about 25 gas wells in Al-Shadadi, Al-Jibsah, and Al-Houl in the southern outskirts of Hasakah until 2011 together produced around 200,000 oil barrels per day, about half the total Syrian oil production. They are all now under Kurdish control.
Definitely, Washington pursues maximum pressure against the government of President Bashar al-Assad behind its agreement with the Kurds. The Americans earlier implemented the Caesar Act of sanctions on Damascus to destroy the already-suffering Syrian economy and now are helping the Kurdish groups sell their oil both to prevent them from moving closer to the central government and at the same time cut to zero Damascus oil sales.
In other words, Washington seeks to pressure the Syrian government heavily to cripple its administration of the country as Damascus is winning a devastating war against foreign-sponsored terrorism. But by international standards, this agreement is illegal because it is signed with a militia Damascus neither recognizes nor does it coordinate with.
Meaningful strategy shift in Syria and making up for the past damages to Kurds
Also, the US signing of oil agreement with the Syrian Kurds takes place in continuation of the US change of strategy in recent months. Since 2018, US President Donald Trump insisted on the withdrawal of the American forces from Syria. The Trump administration even left the allied Kurds unprotected when Turkey launched an operation against the Syrian Kurdish militias in Kurdish-controlled Afrin in Syria’s north. A couple of days before the operation, Trump announced the US forces in the north left their positions.
The policies adopted by the White House since last year gave away the changing policy of the US towards the Kurds and the Syrian equations altogether. In the first place, through entering an oil deal with the Kurds, Washington wants to wash away the black memory of the Kurds from the American inaction when Turkey attacked them. The Kurds labeled the US force exit from the north shortly before the Turkish campaign a “betrayal.”
In the second place, just against their past policy in Syria, the Americans now are seeking to establish self-rule in northern Syria for the Kurds with their direct support and supervision, helping them solidify their military presence in the war-ravaged country. The Syrian petrodollars and the benefits of establishing the US largest military base in Hasakah seem to have lured Trump and US strategists to set up a new home base for the American forces to run rampant across West Asia. To put it differently, they want to turn northeast Syria into their new influence base in the whole region. Naturally, creating such an opportunity will require helping the Kurds to secure degrees of economic independence from Damascus via oil sales.