Would the international community condone Syria if it sent its troops into US territory to secure US oil refineries for its own use? Of course not.
Why then is there no public outcry when the US forcibly occupies northeastern Syria and robs that war-ravaged country of its oil and gas reserves?
The Al Omar oil field in Deir Ez Zor is the largest in Syria. Prior to 2011, it produced 350,000 barrels of oil per day and exported about half. Today, because of the destruction caused by US bombing raids, it produces only about 24,000 barrels per day, hardly enough to cover Syrian domestic needs. And because of rigid US sanctions, imposed by Trump, Syria is prevented from importing oil to cover those losses.
Initially, the US president had ordered a withdrawal of all US troops from the region around Deir Ez Zor, but then, at the last minute, reversed that decision, deciding, instead, to establish a long-term US occupation of northeastern Syria in order to “secure the oil fields.” Since that reversal, the US military has increased its troop size, built two new military bases in Deir Ez Zor, and invited Saudi Arabia, the largest sponsor of terrorism in Syria, to help repair and extract the black gold. In addition to the oil field in Deir Ez Zor, the US now occupies three other fields along with the largest gas facility in Syria and a crucial power plant.
Shortly after the uprising began in 2011, the Kurdish PYD (Democratic Union Party), which had been encamped with the PKK (the Kurdish Workers’ Party) in northern Iraq, returned to Syria, bringing with them a contingent of fighters. In July 2012, it took advantage of the regime’s security force withdrawal from Kurdish areas to firmly establish its political and security presence, ousting Syrian government officials from municipal buildings in at least five of its strongholds and replacing the Syrian flag with its own. In so doing, it openly asserted itself as the authority in charge of state institutions in the region, and against the wishes of the local Arab-Sunni population, established relations with the US military.
The Kurds, a distinct ethnic group with their own language, are comprised of mostly moderate Sunnis with a small percentage of Shiites, Christians and Jews. Some thirty million Kurd live scattered across Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria, with some 200,000 of them settled along Syria’s northeastern border with Turkey. The Kurds tried but failed to form a separate state after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and instead carved out self-governed regions in Syria and Iraq. After World War I, Western powers divided the former Ottoman Empire into the current Middle East, promising the Kurds a part of present-day Turkey in the Treaty of Sevres in 1920. The Treaty of Lausanne, three years later, scrapped the decision to grant the Kurds a homeland and instead established Turkish sovereignty on the new Republic of Turkey. Today, Kurds make up twenty percent of Turkey’s population.
When the US president ordered the US troop withdrawal, Turkey took advantage of the void and invaded the area. And as the Turks considered the Kurdish militias belonging to the PKK to be terrorists, those Kurds suffered enormous losses. In the face of imminent ethnic-cleansing at the hands of the Turks, the Kurds beseeched Damascus to come to their rescue, which it did, and a renewed alliance was established which saw the Syrian Arab Army and the Russian military police arriving into the area to protect the Kurdish as well as other local residents.
When Trump decided to keep US troops in northeastern Syria, the PYD Kurds, even though they had just formed an alliance with the Assad government, agreed to continue working with the US occupation forces in the oil fields much to the dismay of the local Arab Sunni residents who distrust not only the Kurds but the US military, blaming both for robbing them of their oil wealth.
It is quite possible, because of Trump’s ill-fated decision to keep a US presence in northeastern Syria, that US forces will soon find themselves up against violent local resistance similar to that which US troops continue to experience in their prolonged occupation of Iraq. Is that not too high a price to pay for a few extra gallons of oil?
Cathy Sultan is the author of two books about the war in Syria. Both The Syrian and Damascus Street
can be purchased here: Amazon