Syria slams US firm's oil deal with SDF as 'null and void'

A US official on Thursday referred to an oilfields deal between the SDF and a US firm in the Kurdish-controlled region.

    The US, despite largely withdrawing from Kurdish territory in northeastern Syria, has shown a keen interest in protecting oilfields there [File: Hussein Malla/The Associated Press]
    The US, despite largely withdrawing from Kurdish territory in northeastern Syria, has shown a keen interest in protecting oilfields there [File: Hussein Malla/The Associated Press]

    Syria's foreign ministry has said a United States oil company has signed an agreement with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), calling it an illegal deal aimed at "stealing" Syria's crude.

    The ministry statement, published on state media on Sunday, did not name the firm involved in the deal with the SDF, a US-backed alliance of militias that seized swaths of north and east Syria from ISIL and carved out autonomous regions.

    The statement came days after US Senator Lindsey Graham and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo referred to an oilfields deal between the SDF and a US firm during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

    What is the US plan for Syria?

    Graham said during Thursday's hearing that SDF General Commander Mazloum Abdi informed him that a deal had been signed with a US company to "modernise the oil fields in northeastern Syria", and asked Pompeo whether the administration was supportive of it.

    "We are," Pompeo responded. "The deal took a little longer ... than we had hoped, and now we're in implementation."

    The Syrian foreign ministry's statement said Damascus "condemns in the strongest terms the agreement signed between al-Qasd militia (SDF) and an American oil company to steal Syria's oil under the sponsorship and support of the American administration".

    It added: "This agreement is null and void and has no legal basis."

    US withdrawal 

    Syria produced about 380,000 barrels of oil per day before it plunged into war following a crackdown on protests in 2011.

    During the long-running conflict, which has seen the involvement of many international powers and ISIL also seizing large parts of the country for years, Damascus lost control of most oil-producing fields in a stretch east of the Euphrates River in Deir az Zor.

    Western sanctions have also taken a toll on Syria's energy industry.

    US President Donald Trump has shown an acute interest in the oilfields of northeast Syria. Despite announcing a US military pullback from the region in December 2018, Trump also pledged that a small number of US forces would remain "where they have oil".

    Trump faced congressional criticism for the pullback, with some prominent Republicans saying the administration was abandoning Kurdish allies who had been instrumental to defeating ISIL (ISIS) in the region.

    Critics also said the move opened the region to further influence from Russia, whose military support has been key to al-Assad taking back large swaths of the country. 

    The Pentagon said late last year that oilfield revenues would go to the SDF. 

    The alliance's makeup largely consists of fighters from the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) - a group considered "terrorists" by Turkey - and smaller groups of Arab, Turkmen and Armenian fighters.

    Following Trump's pullback announcement, Ankara launched a military operation into northern Syria with the stated aim of removing the SDF from the region bordering Turkey and creating a so-called "safe zone" where millions of the Syrian refugees it hosted could be resettled.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies