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Smuggling crackdown highlights resilience of northeast Syria’s oil trade

Despite a joint Kurdish-US crackdown against oil smugglers from northeast Syria toward government-controlled territories, trade continues.
North-East of Syria, Rojava: The Kobani canton, in the Federation of Northern Syria - Rojava, more commonly known as Syrian Kurdistan or Western Kurdistan, struggles against Daesh. Oil well on the front line near Hassage. (Photo by: Andia/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
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In the wake of Turkey’s latest incursion into northeast Syria, the United States’ local partner in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) — the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — is cracking down on oil smuggling operations from SDF to government-held areas.

This crackdown is unlikely to stop oil originating in Syria’s eastern fields from flowing toward Damascus. The tangled web of business interests and middlemen involved in purchasing and transporting the oil is difficult to identify let alone regulate. More importantly, the SDF has sold crude to government brokers since 2018, even as it targeted smugglers earlier this year; the SDF has only become more dependent on the government after it was left by its US backers to face Turkey’s October offensive alone.

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