US is in business with Syria's Assad

Orient Net - The NEWSWEEK 2019-02-10 08:50:00

expressive image

The United States’ primary allies in Syria have supplied oil to Damascus, despite the regime being sanctioned by Washington.

The Assad regime and the Kurdish militias that comprise the majority of the Pentagon-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have long maintained a working relationship despite vast political differences before and after a 2011 rebel and jihadi uprising that has threatened both of their livelihoods. As the two factions emerge as the most influential forces on the ground, their ongoing ties are receiving new attention.

The dialogue between the Assad regime and the SDF has centered on the former's need for oil from resource-rich regions held by the latter, which has demanded greater autonomy. US plans to withdraw from the conflict following the virtual defeat of the ISIS, however, have expedited Kurdish desires to be on good terms with Damascus.

Reporting by Turkey's official Anadolu Agency and Daily Sabah newspaper cited local sources Thursday as saying that a new deal had been reached to allow the People's Protection Units (YPG)—the leading faction of the Syrian Democratic Forces—to more quickly transport oil via new pipelines being built under the regime-held, eastern city of Deir ez-Zoor.

Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces and US soldiers (left) gather at the Al-Tanak oil field as they prepare to relaunch a military campaign against ISIS near Al-Bukamal, which is under regime control, along with Deir ez-Zoor city, on May 1, 2018. The United States’ primary allies in Syria have supplied oil to Damascus, despite the regime being sanctioned by Washington.

The sources claimed that companies operating under regime control had already begun laying pipes near Al-Shuhayl, a town off the western bank of the Euphrates River that divides the separate anti-ISIS campaigns waged by the Assad regime in the west and the SDF. The deal was reportedly the result of an agreement made during talks last July when the two sides agreed to share production profits.

The day after the Turkish report was published, The Wall Street Journal published its own piece citing a person familiar with US intelligence and a tanker driver transporting oil in elaborating on the arrangement. The article found that oil tankers were traveling near daily to transport oil to the Qatarji Group, a firm hit by US sanctions in September due to its alleged involvement in facilitating oil deals between the regime and ISIS.

The official US military mission in Syria was limited to defeating ISIS, but Washington and its regional allies previously intervened in the country via support for insurgents attempting to overthrow Assad, whom they accused of human rights abuses. The US began targeting ISIS as it overtook half of both Iraq and Syria in 2014 and teamed up with the Syrian Democratic Forces the following year, just as Russia intervened on Assad's behalf.

The SDF's share includes most of the nation's oil resources, which produced up to 350,000 barrels per day prior to the war before dwindling to about 25,000, according to current estimates, while the regime still controls the nation's oil refineries. The successful Syrian Democratic Forces campaign to retake the oil and gas fields from ISIS helped to starve the jihadis of their black market revenue. Now Damascus is in dire need of this income to establish an economy stable enough to capitalize on successive military victories.

This has led to a number of profit-sharing agreements, extending back to at least 2017, as Damascus continued to pay the salaries of workers in Kurdish-held cities and talks expanded last year to include the Syrian regime potentially retaking control of certain facilities such as the Al-Tabqa dam near the northern city of Raqqa. In return, the SDF pushed for wider recognition of the country's significant Kurdish minority and for greater self-rule. More than anything, however, the militia has now sought the Assad regime's protection against a common enemy.

Though Trump has vowed to protect the Kurds in the event of a US exit, he also accused them last month of "selling the small oil that they have to Iran," even though "we asked them not to"—a charge denied by leading Syrian Kurdish politician Salih Muslim in an interview with journalist Mutlu Civiroglu. Like Syria, Iran was subject to extensive sanctions by Washington, restricting its ability to market oil internationally.

Iran has, however, sent up to 10,000 barrels per day to Syria, as estimated by TankerTrackers.com and reported by The Wall Street Journal, furthering both countries' economic interests in a development that has prompted anxieties among Arab states feeling increasingly sidelined by Tehran. As the SDF rushed to repair relations with Assad regime, a number of Arab League states have also begun to repair ties gradually with it.  

Comments