EU Lifts Ban on Oil Exports By Syrian Opposition

The EU has lifted the ban on oil exports from the Syrian opposition, opening the possibility of increased financial aid for those fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad, writes Hoshik Ossi.

al-monitor Iraqi Kurds stand near pipes that feed diesel from a pumping station in Iraqi Kurdistan to Syria on the Iraqi bank of the river Tigris at the Iraqi-Syrian border near the Dohuk province, Feb. 2, 2013. Kurds on either side of the river Tigris that runs between Syria and Iraq are linked by kinship, a history of oppression and now by fuel lines. Photo by REUTERS/Azad Lashkari.

Topics covered

syrian crisis, syrian, syria, oil, jihadists, eu

May 7, 2013

Among the economic sanctions imposed by the EU on the Assad regime is the ban on importing oil from Syria. The regime, however, has continued to benefit from this oil and its refinement to operate its brutal machine that is destroying both the country and the people.

Despite the fact that the production of Syrian oil does not exceed 400,000 barrels per day, which ranks Syria in 30th place on the list of oil-producing countries, the fact remains that the revenue  from this production has not been accounted for in the budget for many years, instead being put into secret accounts owned by the Assad family. Moreover, these [accounts] are fuel for the security forces of the Assad regime, father and son. This force is the lifeblood of the extremely deep, complex, authoritarian and totalitarian regime.

Syrian oil production — despite the fact that it dropped after the Syrian revolution and the sanctions, and stopped pumping foreign currency into the country — has continued to fuel the bloody cycle of Assad's military machine.

The European Union has opened the door to the import of Syrian oil, but through the opposition. This will have positive as well as dangerous and negative effects.

1. Finding an economic, national and independent resource for the opposition and the revolution could ease pressure on the opposition in terms of securing and buying arms, and in terms of relief and logistical support, which would give its policies and positions a degree of independence, given that there is “no independent policy without an independent economy.” This spares the opposition from having to beg for financial aid from both the Arab world and the wider international community.

2. Despite the lack of Syrian production of oil and gas, this may open the door to a direct foreign military intervention as it constitutes a resource that can pay part of the bills of this intervention. This may also whet the appetite of international oil companies to influence global political decisions and pressure their governments for military intervention, as a prelude to staking a claim over Syrian oil and exploring it.

3. Up to 85% of Syrian oil is extracted from the Syrian-Kurdish areas, in the northeast of the country. These areas are not under the control of the National Coalition of Opposition Forces, but are nominally under the control of the Supreme Kurdish Authority, although in reality they are under the control of the Democratic Union Party. Not a single drop of oil can be exported without the consent of the Syrian Kurdish forces. This is what prompted the Free Army and Jabhat al-Nusra to go to these regions and clash violently with the Kurdish forces on the one hand and with the regime on the other. The presence of oil, and with Europe allowing it to be imported, may be a factor of rapprochement between the Arab, Syrian, Kurdish and Syriac opposition forces, and it may be a potentially explosive mine that increases the contradictions between these forces and increases the Syrian Revolution's vulnerability to differences and clashes.

4. The Kurdish forces are also at odds and lack harmony, contrary to appearances. The Democratic Union Party (close to the PKK) and the National Council of Kurds in Syria (close to the leadership of Kurdistan Region of Iraq) are both seeking to impose their hegemony and authority over the Kurdish areas in Syria, despite the understandings and agreements between them. For instance, there is the Hallier Convention sponsored by the president of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Massoud Barzani, which led to the formation of the Supreme Kurdish Authority in order to divide power in the Syrian-Kurdish region between the two parties.

However, the media and political bickering between them is intensifying, which portends the outbreak of inter-Kurdish fighting, should the issue of oil join the set of pre-existing differences, similar to the internal 1994-1998 war that took place in Iraqi Kurdistan over the proceeds of the Ibrahim Khalil border crossing between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party. Accordingly, many Kurdish observers fear that opening the door to the export of oil will add fuel to the fire of inter-Kurdish and Kurdish-Arabic differences.

5. Opening the door to oil imports will possibly give the Kurds more credit in Europe and the West, if they manage to deal with the Syrian opposition on the one hand, and the international community on the other. The fact of the matter is, Syrian-Kurdish diplomacy is nonexistent in Europe and the West, as the Kurdish forces were supposed to clearly define the Kurdish issue and the eligibility and legitimacy of Kurdish rights and demands, separately from the stereotypical, shallow, tendentious and distorted definitions that are given sometimes, such as those propagated by some parties and leaders of the Syrian opposition about the Kurds and their demands and agendas.

6. Oil will be a powerful and strategic bargaining chip in the hand of the Kurdish forces to pressure the Syrian opposition forces that raise doubts and suspicions over their demands. These forces show praise to the Kurds while their intentions are not much different from the Assad regime’s intentions!

All of this will happen if the Kurdish forces behave and if their internal house is tidy and free of chaos, strife and political and media bickering.

In any case, although the oil is important as a strategic catalyst for convergence, cooperation and harmony between the Kurds themselves, and between them and other opposition forces, the fact remains that it will be a factor that leads to rivalry in the absence of good behavior. Moreover, Syrian oil exports would open the door to financial and administrative corruption among the Kurdish and Arab opposition forces in Syria. As the stench of corruption between the forces of the Syrian opposition is already hanging in the air without the export of oil, the question arises as to how bad it will get with oil exports.

Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
  • Al-Monitor Archives
  • The Week in Review
  • Exclusive Events
  • Invitation-only Briefings

More from  Hoshik Ossi