The convoy of US troops from Iraq to Syria to protect the oil fields in Qamishli on October 26. Photo: AFP

The reason the US decided to hang on to the Syrian oil field

The Syrian oil fields have negligible output, but can be a valuable US bargaining chip with Russia and the Damascus government.

Oil in Syria suddenly became a hot topic in Washington D.C. of the United States, after President Donald Trump unexpectedly announced it would deploy several hundred troops and armored vehicles to protect oil fields in the northeastern country.

The decision, contrary to the Trump pullout earlier, showed the growing importance of oil resources to the region. Some argue that the driving force behind Trump's decision-making is due to the economic benefits from the oil fields in Syria.

However, experts from IHS Markit's Roger Diwan and Daniel Yerginis pointed out that the economic value of the oil fields in Syria to the United States is not high. Syrian oil fields used to account for 25% of the total revenue of President Bashar al-Assad's government in the period before the civil war, but in the world market, the Syrian oil source was almost negligible.

With an output of 385,000 barrels a day before the civil war began in 2011, Syria's oil industry is just a "sand grain" accounting for less than 0.5% of the world's total oil supply. In the same year, the United States produced 5.7 million barrels a day and has now raised to 12.6 million barrels a day.

A convoy of US troops arrives at an oil field in Qamishli, Syria on October 26. Image: AFP.

The emergence of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) organization has brought Syrian oil suddenly to the attention of the international community, not in terms of output but in terms of what IS can do with oil fields. this. Under IS control, Syria's oil production fell by 90% to about 40,000 bpd in 2015.

ISIS has been able to "convert barrels of crude oil into cash" when smuggling oil to Turkey, selling to local markets, including the Assad government, earning about $ 500 million a year, helping the organization. have a solid financial source and become the richest terrorist organization ever. In addition, oil resources have helped IS recruit recruits from other rebel groups in Syria and around the world for willingness to pay high salaries.

In the context of ISIS being defeated and withdrawing from covert operations, oil fields once controlled by this organization are now transferred to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SFD) and the Kurds.

During the fight against ISIS, ground-based oilfields were the target of US air strikes that cut off IS's income, and they continued to be destroyed in the following skirmishes. there. In addition, the oil production system is not regularly maintained, causing Syrian oil production to continue to decline.

The exact figures are not yet available, but Syria's oil production is believed to be around 15,000-30,000 bpd. Nonetheless, this will remain an important financial source for the SDF and the Kurds.

Bringing back the output to pre-civilian levels will take a lot of time and money, and very few oil companies will be willing to do this even if sovereignty issues between The parties that manage the oil fields have been settled.

Before the civil war, Syria had a relatively large number of foreign investors, from big corporations like Total and Sinopec to small companies like Gulfsands, in cooperation with Syrian Petroleum Company (SPC) with split agreements. share of output. However, rising violence and sanctions from the European Union (EU) in late 2011 caused most foreign oil corporations to leave Syria.

Even before the civil war broke out, Syria was not an attractive destination for oil and gas corporations, as revenue often had to be shared largely with the Syrian government. The meager Syrian oil fields are concentrated mainly in two areas: the Northeast and along the Euphrates River, not comparable with those with large oil reserves in Iraq or the Persian Gulf.

With oil reserves scattered and far from Mediterranean exporters, Syria's oil resources are generally on the sidelines of the "oil game" in the Middle East and the oil industry. world.

Nonetheless, the United States has a number of reasons to maintain its grip on its oil fields, with the most important being pointed out by the presence of US troops to ensure that they do not fall in. IS hands again.

Although ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been killed, IS still has thousands of militants in Iraq and Syria, plus a large number of rebels imprisoned in Kurdish-controlled prisons. Even if ISIS does not have the ability to "return to its heyday", its militants can still destroy Syria's most valuable resources.

The second reason is that the holdings of these oil fields lead the US to hold a "bargaining card" with both Russia and the Assad regime in later negotiations.

The US has poured a lot of money to support "peaceful" rebel groups against the Assad regime. However, after Russia's military intervention in Syria, the rebel groups were defeated, losing all control areas in southern Syria and forced to retreat in Idlib province bordering Turkey. .

The US then turned to support the Kurdish militia in order to maintain its position and influence in Syria. However, the US reputation was severely damaged when Trump decided to withdraw troops in early October, making Russia almost the most important voice on the Syrian chess board.

The possession of oil fields, which is the most important source of revenue for the Assad regime, will help the US have a voice in the post-civil war negotiations and ensure the interests of the opposition as well as the Kurdish militia.

Controlling oil fields helps the US hold the "engine" for the economic recovery of Syria in the post-war period, which requires a lot of resources and money. However, whatever the reason, efforts to help these oil fields achieve their pre-civilian output will take time.

The impacts on oil resources in Syria will have a great impact on the future of the country, which is crippled by this crisis. Therefore, despite not having high value in the total world oil supply, oil fields in Syria are still targets that the US cannot give up.

manic states (Follow NPR)

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