FISH KHABUR, Iraq — At the Halifax Security Forum, an annual event attended by high-powered government officials, business titans and assorted other bigwigs from across the globe, national security adviser Robert O’Brien took the stage with PBS’ Nick Shifrin and let the cat out of the bag. When the veteran correspondent grilled O’Brien Nov. 23 about President Donald Trump’s decision to keep US troops in northeastern Syria “for the oil,” noting that the Pentagon’s Syrian Kurdish allies were selling it to the Syrian regime in defiance of sanctions, O’Brien responded, “Some of it goes to the regime. Some of it is used locally. Some of it goes to Iraqi Kurdistan. Some of it goes to Turkey. The key, though, is not where the oil goes but where the revenue goes.” The main thing, he concluded, was to ensure that none of it got to the Islamic State.
It is by now well established that the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has been involved in selling oil produced in fields in eastern Syria mainly to regime-held areas. But trade with neighboring Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey has rarely been reported and the parties involved, including the United States, have sought to keep it that way. For one, it flies in the face of US sanctions. But for Turkey, it's even more awkward.