American troops occupy oil reserves in Syria with Kurdish support, violating national sovereignty.
Tensions between the United States and Syria have worsened in the diplomatic and economic spheres. The Syrian Foreign Ministry recently formally accused the United States of being involved in a major oil theft scheme on Syrian territory. Syrian resources are said to be being provided to Washington by Kurdish rebels who fight President Bashar al-Assad’s government and have good relations with the West. The case tends to increase the diplomatic crisis between the West and Syria and to increase violence in the civil war.
The Syrian government’s claims came to light after the revelation of an agreement between an American company and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – currently led by Kurdish rebels – on oil exploration. Interestingly, the American company in the deal is not identified. The Syrian Chancellery informed the state media agency SANA that the government does not recognize the legitimacy of the agreement, and therefore considers it null. Still, in the same statement, Kurdish rebels were accused of being agents for the American occupation of Syria.
Syria has long claimed that the US is involved in illegal oil extraction schemes in the country. According to the Syrian government, the fact that there are still American soldiers in Syria, even after the troops retreated last year, is due to the constant looting of national oil that would be secretly operated by American troops and their rebel allies. The Syrian accusations are not without foundation: the American military are currently located precisely in the vicinity of the oil reserves.
In early 2020, the American military began to build two bases in Al Hasakah province, close to the Rumeylan oil reserve. The choice of an oil-rich region is certainly not a coincidence, but an extremely strategic option for American interests. There is another fact that makes American activity in Al Hasakah even more suspicious: the use of a building by Kurdish forces to install one of the American bases.
When the bases were installed, American General Frank McKenzie, leader of the US Central Command, stated that Washington’s intention is to maintain American troops for a long and indefinite time and expressed dissatisfaction with President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the largest part of the American soldiers. In fact, there is a conflict of interest in American political society, where one group advocates the total withdrawal of troops and the reduction of American interventionism, and another group defends the maintenance of interventionism and troops in conflicts on other continents. Trump seems to be leaning towards diminishing interventionism, but he is under great pressure from the American Deep State, which defends the maintenance of troops and acts with great influence on the government’s decisions.
The scenario formed, then, was one in which Trump could withdraw troops, as long as some military personnel remained in the strategic regions of Syria, where they could guarantee oil extraction for the American business and industrial sector – which is very strong within Deep State’s network. In the impossibility of maintaining all the troops, the agreed condition was the maintenance of the military in the oil zones. It is important to note that these American troops do not have any agreement with Damascus, which did not authorize the construction of any military base in the Syrian territory. This means that, by definition, the new American bases are illegal, and the case can be considered a real invasion, which constitutes an international crime and must be tried in the UN legal bodies.
The collaboration between the US and the Kurdish rebel forces makes the situation even more serious. Washington is not only promoting the illegal occupation of a rich region of Syria but is actively collaborating with militias that fight the government, completely violating Syria’s sovereignty as a national state. The rivalry between the US and Syria is well known, but in formal terms, both countries are not at war, so illegally occupying a territory and collaborating publicly with local rebels constitutes a serious violation of international standards and justifies a possible reaction from Assad’s forces.
In order to achieve peace in Syria, it is necessary to end active collaboration with belligerent rebel groups. In the same sense, the illegal occupation of Syrian territories must be eradicated and punished in the international bodies. Foreign interest in Syria must be limited to the strengthening of an international coalition to combat terrorist groups, with no collaboration with para-state militias at war against the state – this is a domestic issue and exclusive responsibility of the Syrian state. Likewise, it is necessary to praise the principle of transparency in international business and to condemn any agreement between foreign unidentified companies and illegal militias.
Contributed by Lucas Leiroz, a research fellow in international law at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.