The Syrian government has accused the US of “stealing” the country’s oil reserves, which Washington claimed to be protecting from terrorists. American lawmakers admitted that a deal has been signed with Kurdish rebels.
When President Donald Trump pulled US troops out of Syria last October, it was not the full withdrawal promised in his anti-interventionist campaign speeches. Instead, a contingent was left behind in areas of north Syria controlled by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, ostensibly to protect the region’s oilfields from Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorists.
However, the Syrian government has accused the US of pilfering the oil for itself. In a statement to the state-controlled SANA News Agency on Sunday, the Foreign Ministry condemned a deal signed between an unnamed American oil firm and the SDF, calling the oil extraction “stealing” and the rebels “a cheap puppet in the hands of the American occupation.”
The ministry added that it would consider the deal “null and void.”
The government in Damascus has long accused the US of looting Syria’s oil reserves. While the troops left behind on the oilfields supposedly stopped the black gold from falling into terrorist hands, sanctions on the Syrian government mean that the US hasn’t handed it over to Damascus either. Instead, rumors have circulated that the US quietly sold the oil off to foreign buyers, with Syrian President Bashar Assad accusing America of flogging the oil to Turkey, just as Islamic State and Al-Nusra terrorists did beforehand.
Back stateside, President Trump’s assertion that “I kept the oil” did little to dispel these rumors.
The deal mentioned by the Foreign Ministry, though, is acknowledged by Washington. In a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Thursday, Senator Lindsey Graham said that a deal had been signed to “modernize the oil fields in northeastern Syria.” Graham asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo whether the Trump administration supported the deal, to which Pompeo replied “we are.”
It is unclear, however, what “modernization” entails, and whether or not any oil will leave Syria.
Before its descent into civil war, Syria was producing 387,000 barrels of oil per day, of which 140,000 were exported to buyers including Germany and Italy. The seizure of its oil reserves, coupled with US sanctions on its energy and export industries, have hammered the Syrian economy.