EU's Misguided Decision to Lift Syria Oil Embargo

Article Summary
While the EU's recent decision to lift an oil embargo on Syria was aimed at assisting the opposition forces, it has created tribal warlords who fight for control of the country's natural resources.

Developments in the Syrian civil war warn of a burgeoning process of "Afghanization," and the need for Turkey to deal with it without making the mistakes Pakistan did.

"Afghanization" is a concept to explain how after the 1979 Soviet invasion, the country was divided among tribes that were making big money from the heroin and weapons trades, while tribal leaders were transforming into warlords. The country is the dismal shape it is in now because tribal leaders could not give up the enormous profits they were making from the narcotics and weapons trades.

We now face a similar situation in Syria, where tribes and the PKK’s local extension, the PYD, are taking over the oil wells that the central government can no longer control.

A disastrous EU decision

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At the beginning of this month, to support the opposition, the EU decided to lift the oil embargo on Syria. Although the decision looked favorable on paper for the opposition, it quickly became clear that it was a disastrous step that would cause the situation to spin further out of control.

Syria’s oil wells are in located in the Deir al-Zour and Hassakeh regions, close to the Iraqi border. Deir al-Zour is controlled by Sunni tribes while the PYD controls Hassakeh. The pro-al-Qaeda Jabhat al-Nusra has been increasing its domination of the Deir al-Zour region.

We know that Jabhat al-Nusra is clashing with tribes for control of the oil wells. The latest such clash was at Masrib, causing 37 fatalities.

The EU’s decision to buy oil from the opposition triggered battles over oil wells, contributed to the further fragmentation of the opposition, and resulted in the Free Syrian Army (FSA) being helpless in face of tribal leaders who are rapidly becoming warlords.

Extraordinary riches

According to our colleague Mariam Karouny [Reuters], whose reports from Syria are lessons in responsible journalism, tribes took over as many wells as they could according to their armed manpower. Oil is sent to the Turkish and Iraqi borders in small tankers and is sold on the average for $17 per barrel, while current world market prices fetch $100 per barrel.

Tribal leaders who are making big money from the oil trade do not share their revenue with the FSA, but invest in the arms trade. FSA commanders express their helplessness when they say, "We can’t do anything to tribal leaders because we are the sons of those tribes."

Barzani-PYD tension

Freelance journalist Andrea Glioti, who has become an expert on the Syrian civil war, tells us that the PKK-affiliated PYD has taken over 60% of the oil wells in Hassakeh. Oil from these wells is generally sent to northern Iraq in exchange for refined gasoline and diesel fuel. It is no secret that the PKK has many of its fighters to protect these oil wells. Iraqi Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani’s immediate closure of the border after the recent "hostage crisis,” along with the PYD’s quick reversal of its actions, are significant indicators of the importance of the border oil trade and money involved. There are signs that there are serious rifts between the Barzani administration and the PYD over the sharing of oil revenues.

I’m warning Turkey

Pakistan ignored the heroin trade of Afghan tribal leaders ostensibly to support the resistance against the Soviets. The Soviets left in 1989, but Pakistan is still mired there.

For Turkey to tolerate the oil trade of tribal leaders, Jabhat al-Nusra and the PYD so that they acquire funds for the Syrian opposition could well lead to a similar catastrophic situation.

Hayati Yazici, the minister responsible for customs operations, began to close down the crossings to Syria. It is an appropriate decision but reports we get say oil smugglers are using routes leading to the border. Our military has to take some serious measures to control these crossings.

Finally, although I couldn’t have it confirmed from independent sources, I am getting reports that Sunni tribal leaders have made deals with President Bashar al-Assad to protect the oil pipelines as part of their revenue sharing. 

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Found in: syrian, oil drilling, oil, kurdistan
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