Who controls Syria’s oil?

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Article Summary
As the infighting among jihadist groups continues in Syria, control of the country’s northeastern oil fields is increasingly divided.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has accused the Syrian government of conspiring with jihadist groups in the oil sector. Two days ago [July 1], Fabius said during a visit to India that the Syrian government is buying oil from the jihadists who took control of regions in Iraq and Syria, which “proves the ambiguous nature of the current conflict.”

Who is stealing Syrian oil, who is buying it and who is selling it? Where does the ambiguity lie?

The French minister probably ignores that the European Union made a legal busines out of the looting of oil, through an EU decision reached in April 2013. This step allowed the “interim government” of Ahmad Tohme, which is affiliated with the Syrian National Coalition, to fund itself by selling part of the Syrian oil which is subject to European and US (illegal) sanctions on the international market.

Since then, the National Coalition did not sell a single barrel and the Ministry of Energy, affiliated with the coalition and located in Gaziantep, Turkey, was not able to fill any tank of Syrian oil found at the gates of the close-by Syrian city of Tal Abyad. This is where the oil is transported and refined to the account of Syrian, Arab and foreign emirs of the war and jihad. Then, it is sold to Turkish companies.

Before he was imprisoned by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), Faisal al-Balou, an emir from Jabhat al-Nusra, did not wait for the sanctions imposed on Syrian oil to be lifted. Balou, along with eight emirs of the war in the region, started organizing the looting of Syrian oil, buying Turkish refineries, after dismantling and selling the cotton gins of Aleppo, and the silos in Ras al-Ayn, in order to fund border oil facilities.

According to oil experts, compared with Iraqi oil reserves, the production of 380,000 barrels per day of Syrian oil is not a tempting offer, nor enough of an excuse to wage a war. However, Syrian oil has been and is still playing a role behind the scenes, especially in eastern Syria where it is mainly produced.

The West does not need the Syrian oil. But the domestic war machine needs it. Meanwhile, the Islamic caliphate is expanding and seeking to reunite the jihad, banners, wells and tribes, after they were scattered. This reunification is one of the main elements of the jihadist fight between brothers on both sides of the Euphrates, and of the attack of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s “Kharijites” against the “apostates” of Jabhat al-Nusra leader Abu Muhammad al-Golani, in their bastion Shuhail. The former had chased off the latter from the eastern and western countryside of Deir ez-Zor. The Kharijites of Baghdadi entered Abu Kamal, besieged the opposition’s neighborhood in the heart of Deir ez-Zor, while they were at crossfire with the Syrian army on the other side of the besieged area.

Since Jabhat al-Nusra took over the city of Raqqa two years ago in the name of Baghdadi, the military leader of ISIS in Syria, Omar al-Shishani, continues to spread his forces in eastern Syria and work as a regional force to protect its strategic resources, which generate daily no less than $1 million for every 50,000 barrels sold. The Syrian Ministry of Oil provided the estimates of the amount of oil produced from the looted wells.

In Deir ez-Zor and south of Hasakah, the oil is divided among the supporters of Baghdadi, Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, local factions and tribal groups. The latter are fighting, under “jihadist” pretexts, the tribes of al-Bakir, al-Bakara, al-Koran, Albu Khabour and others. While in Ramilan, in the northeast of Syria, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party is taking over one of the largest oil fields and facilities in Syria. In light of the recent fighting, Shishani is getting close to achieving the goals of his leader, Baghdadi, and Turkish clients. He is reinforcing his control over the Syrian oil sources and unifying the selling network, while protecting the means of transport from Deir ez-Zor to Raqqa in the north, to the Turkish borders.

During the fighting that had been taking place for the last few months, the map of Syrian oil was established as follows; The “state” of Baghdadi was able to retrieve main oil sites from Deir ez-Zor. Shishani took control of the Conico gas refinery from the head of the legislative council and the mufti of Jabhat al-Nusra, Omar al-Hadawi. Shishani had canceled a former agreement between Hadawi and the Khacham tribes and accorded the tribe a third of the gas production, while he caused the displacement of the residents of the city that had pledged allegiance to Jabhat al-Nusra. The Islamic State thus become the sole ruler of the refinery that pumps the gas to the power plant in Homs.

Shishani also took control of the Al-Jafra oil field from the legislative council of Hadawi. Jabhat al-Nusra had provided 30 wells to dozens of tribes in order to protect [the field] and guarantee the loyalty of [the tribes]. The Islamic State took the T2 pumping station from the Jaysh Ahl Sunna Wal Jamaa [Army of the Sunni Community], which is located on the Iraqi-Syrian oil line. The Diro station fell under the grip of Shishani after dozens of tribes from the villages of al-Sawa and al-Zgheir and their militants pledged allegiance to [Shishani]. The Tink oil field, which is one of the most important fields in the region, is divided among an alliance formed between Ahrar al-Sham, Jaafar Tayar brigade, Ibn al-Moukim and Ahl al-Asar on one hand, and a group of tribes and families from the region on the other.

The tribes of Ghranij were able to have wide control over the Tink field, as Abdul Hamid al-Hamad and his relatives produce 1,000 barrels per day, while Habib Ziab al-Dawri produces 1,300 barrels per day. As for Karim al-Badawi, he is able to get 1,000 barrels and Toufic al-Ifan 900 barrels. Abu Siraj produces 2,000 barrels per day, whereas the tribes of the Abu-Hamam village gets its own share from this field. The Al-Bahr family is considered the luckiest in terms of oil production, as it sells 4,000 barrels daily. The wells of the Nahr family produce 1,500 barrels, while the wells of Hamid Zaalan produce 2,500 barrels and the Omar family gets 1,500 barrels per day. The brothers Hamed, Omairi and Wael manage a well that produces no more than 200 barrels per day. The Doaimy family produces 2,000 barrels from the dozens of wells located in the Tink field. The Jomaa and Maysar families share the Marsoum well that produces 1,000 barrels per day.

The fighting that will occur in the next days will decide the fate of the Omar field, with the arrival of Baghdadi’s soldiers to the northern entrances of Shuhail city, which is the bastion of Jabhat al-Nusra. The Omar field is considered an important one in terms of [oil] production in Deir ez-Zor. Jabhat al-Nusra allocated 10,000 barrels per day to the legislative council, while the tribes of the villages of Darnaj, Suwaidan, Jazira, Al-Jorzi, Tayana, Zayban and al-Hawayej got 12,000 barrels per day from the southeastern part of the field. The families of the Shuhail towns got 10,000 barrels per day from the western part of the field.

The most prominent families that exploit Al-Omar field are the Sayad family, which receives 4,000 barrel per day, followed by Al-Mezaal family with 3,500 barrel per day and the Fayad family that produces 1,000 barrels per day. Nawaf, Ato and Warcho al Sarhan produce 500 barrels per day.

As for the fields of Khorat, al-Tim and al-Ward, their wells might be exposed to great damages, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Observatory had sent 12 people from the towns of Al-Mohsen, Al-Muriyat, al-Toub, Bou Omar and Boulil, to these fields, notably the Tim field, in order to monitor the slow production of oil, which is only 300 barrels per day.

Found in: regional trade, oil revenue, oil & gas, jabhat al-nusra, islamic state of iraq and al-sham
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