While a US company has secured rights in north Syria to drill and export Syrian oil, stepping up the US president Trump’s policy of ‘protecting the oil’ for the Syrians, this is being followed by a transfer of additional US troops from Iraq to Syria, indicating how the US policies are at the heart of permanently dividing Syria between an ‘oil-rich and oil-starved’ regions. This is apart from the fact that the US, in the name of ‘protecting’ the oil, is now officially stealing Syria’s oil, an act which potentially violates Geneva convention and amounts to committing war crimes. While committing war crimes is not new for the US, this stealing is further compounded by the fact that the US presence in Syria has no legal authorization by the Syrian government or even by the United Nations.
Although the agreement has been signed between a shadowy US company and the Kurdish SDF, there is no denying that it has a very visible and too-obvious-to-ignore US official imprint. In other words, while the US may not be an official party to the deal, a deal concerning a Syrian region under the US control makes the US the de-facto deal maker and the primary beneficiary as well, making the deal a practical definition of Trump’s ‘keeping the oil’ mantra.
While the US official narrative at the time of the announcement of ‘keeping the oil’ decision was to make sure that the oil doesn’t fall into the hands of a “reconstituted ISIS”, the same could have been and can still be done by leaving the Syrian oil to the Syrian government, which has already defeated the ISIS in a powerful fashion. Such a course of action, however, would not have effectively serve the purpose of stealing the oil through its shadow companies.
Delta Crescent Energy, the primary US oil company that has acquired 25-year exclusive rights to drill and export oil, is not more than a year old. It registered only last week in Delaware, signifying how Washington has created a company overnight to give a supposedly legal cover to its ‘oil-steal mission’ in norther Syria.
James Reese, a US army veteran and one of owners of the company, has been a strong supporter of the US military presence in Syria to exploit its oil, and is well connected with the Trump administration. In fact, Mike Pompeo did not mince words when he confirmed to Lindsay Graham that “The deal took a little longer, Senator, than we had hoped, and now we’re in implementation.”
Let’s not forger here that Lindsay Graham has himself been a staunch advocate of ‘keeping the oil’ and helping the revenues flow to the Kurds to keep them ‘independent’ of Damascus. This is perhaps the only way the US can maintain a long-term direct military presence in Syria, prevent a Syrian unification and maintain a sharp focus on its real mission in Syria: rolling back Iranian presence and block its access to Lebanon.
In 2019, Graham confirmed in an interview that the US and Kurdish forces long allied with Washington could establish a venture to modernize Syrian oil fields, with the revenue flowing to the Kurds. “President Trump is thinking outside the box,” Graham said of Trump’s thinking on oil. That ‘out of the box’ solution has now come out in terms of an altogether new company with 25 years of exclusive rights.
To quote him:
“By continuing to maintain control of the oil fields in Syria, we will deny Assad and Iran a monetary windfall. By increasing production of the oil fields, we will be helping our Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) allies who fought so bravely to destroy the ISIS Caliphate. We can also use some of the revenues from future oil sales to pay for our military commitment in Syria.”
That the ‘steal mission’ is directly connected to the Trump administration is also evident from the fact how Delta, just a year-old company, managed to receive a waiver out of the four companies that applied for it. To avoid sanctions, companies need a sanctions waiver from the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.
Getting this waiver could not have been a problem. Company’s currently acknowledged ownership includes people well connected with the Republicans and the Trump administration. It includes James Cain, a Republican donor and Bush-era ambassador to Denmark and John Dorrier, an oil executive with ties to Syrian regime financiers, who has made recent campaign contributions to Trump as well as to Republican Senators Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham.
There is thus little gainsaying that the agreement to exploit Syrian oil is the key to long-term US military presence in Syria and a step towards a de-facto division of Syria on the same lines as Iraq where Kurdistan has been enjoying an autonomous status for quite a long time and with no possibility of unification.
As it stands, Trump’s plan to ‘end the war’ in Syria has, for all practical reasons, become a plan to sit in Syria permanently. This is indeed a clear manifestation of what Reese had said in 2018 about Syria and its oil: “”We own the whole eastern part of Syria…That’s ours. We can’t give that up.”
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.