The offensive on Kirkuk launched by the Iraqi army with the support of Iran may apparently end not only with the defeat of the Iraqi Kurds, which has already happened in principle, but also with the total defeat of the DAISH on Iraqi territory.
On October 26, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the launch of an operation to liberate the district of Al-Qaim in the Anbar Province from the DAISH terrorist organization, confirming that the terrorists had been given the choice to “surrender or die”. On the morning of October 26, Iraqi forces launched a military operation to liberate Al-Qaim, Rawa and other districts in the west of the Anbar Province, which are under the control of DAISH. The commander of military operations in western Anbar Province Abdul-Amir Yar Allah stressed that the large-scale operation to liberate the western province, including the districts of Al-Qaim, Rawa, Al-Obeidi, Sa’dah, Al-Karābilah, phosphates processing plants, cement factories, and all settlements near the Iraqi-Syrian border are being conducted by commanders of military operations in Anbar and Jazeera, together with militias, tribal militias, forces of the federal police, as well as detachments of the pro-Iranian “Hashd al-Shaabî”. According to some sources in the Iraqi army, the operation began from four directions with the support of air forces, and the offensive is also being maintained from the northern part of the province of Nineveh. By noon, the front units of the Iraqi army had approached the city of Al-Qaim on the bank of the Euphrates and moved further along their way by the river.
These units are very close to the border with Syria. And it can be concluded that at this stage, the zone under the control of the DAISH in western Anbar will first be split into two parts, and then simply liquidated. Presently, there are slightly over 5,000 DAISH militants in this region. However, some of them, together with the local population, have already started relocating to the Syrian part of the border. The Iraqi units with the militia and the detachments of the “Hashd al-Shaabî”, advancing from the north along the border, have virtually started destroying the northern part of the last zone under the control of DAISH. This is apparently a question of no more than 4-5 days. And then the entire border with Syria from Turkey in the north and to Jordan in the south will go under the full control of the federal Iraqi government in Baghdad.
The question that remains is, where will the DAISH militants go, if they are trapped in Syria by Syrian government troops in the districts of Deir ez-Zor and Mayadin and by SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) Kurdish troops in the Raqqa district? In fact, DAISH only possesses a small desert zone adjacent to the Abu-Kamal settlement. And if it is attacked from both sides, the militants will have to escape only in one direction – to the south towards Jordan, and then to Saudi Arabia. And this is apparently the goal of Tehran, which organized the offensive on Kirkuk and towards Turkey along the Syrian border. And the task of Iran is not only to finish off DAISH, but to also put the SDF Syrian Kurds into their place, as was done with the Iraqi Kurds, who accepted all the conditions of the ultimatum of Baghdad, and rejected the idea of the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan. It is also in line with the interests of Turkey, which would clearly like to destroy the Kurdish Rojava in the territory of the SAR, in which the PKK militants are entrenched. But to do so, the control over oil fields captured by the SDF with the support of the US would have to be returned to Assad.
Meanwhile, Damascus lost the “oil race” in southern Syria. Attempts to take over the Euphrates were ceased by the coalition air forces, and the very first attempt of the Russian air forces to act against the Kurds ended up with the “partners” threatening to shoot down any aircraft on the left bank of the Euphrates, whether it be Russian or Syrian. The deposits that are now under the control of the Kurds constitute about 70% of all Syrian oil, and this is light oil, i.e. of the best quality. But there is a problem: the fields have seriously degraded over the war years. DAISH exploited them in a rather barbaric manner, so that they need to be recovered, which requires considerable expenses that are unaffordable on the part of the Kurds. They will most likely be able to restore the level of DAISH production, that is, about 40 thousand barrels per day. But this volume is extremely low. Any export would be excluded, as the domestic consumption alone of today’s Syria is much higher than that.
The economy of the country has been destroyed, and it is unlikely that the entire country consumes more than 150 thousand barrels per day today. The Kurdish control zone consumes about one fourth to one fifth of the total number of barrels, that is, about 30-40 thousand barrels per day. Presently, the Kurds are in fact able to cover the needs of their territory. For them, exporting oil does not make any sense, and the problems associated with oil processing are very unlikely: the same DAISH purchased and installed 7 mobile refineries under very unfavorable conditions. It is clear that the Kurds will have it much easier.
Moreover, the Kurds have secured control over the cascade of dams and power plants on the Euphrates. During peak production, Syria produced 41 billion kWh of electric power. Today, this figure is significantly lower. Nevertheless, the Kurds will, no doubt, secure “their” territory with power and most likely have excess power for sale to the rest of Syria. By the way, the decline in power production is due to the fact that the Turks used the war to significantly reduce the inflow of water to the Euphrates, taking up water on its territory. This led to lower levels of reservoirs in Syria and Iraq. In any case, the USA pragmatically inflicted self-service on the Kurds in Syria, releasing themselves from taking care of their financing.
The gas fields in Shaer, Araka, Jafra, and Hail were blown up by DAISH. Plants for pumping gas into cylinders were destroyed, making the entire population of Syria, in the absence of a centralized gas supply, end up preparing meals using either diesel fuel or gas cylinders. Today, this is a deficit. Of course, this can be restored, but again, it will require time and money. Assad has no possibility to restore this infrastructure, so Damascus is only hoping to get assistance from Iran and Russia.
Last but not least, the real question is now the post-war division of territories and drawing the financial results of the war. In view of the above, certain parties of the “Syrian campaign” (both from the “USA coalition” and from the other side) are increasingly considering the option of gaining full control over the oil fields of the Kurds, restoring pre-war production levels there, and financing the restoration of the SAR with these proceeds.
Peter Lvov, Ph.D in political science, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”