By Massoud Hamed, Al-Monitor, April 15, 2016
DERBASIYA, Syria – Five years into the Syrian revolution, entire cities have been brought to rubble and a population has been forcibly displaced by the Syrian regime or the forces that controlled the areas deserted by the Syrian regime’s army.
All military forces, such as the Islamic State (IS), Jabhat al-Nusra and the opposition Kurdish forces, sought to control the areas rich with underground resources. These resources are concentrated in Deir ez-Zor  and the Kurdish areas in the Rojava region, a de facto autonomous region of Syria.
Oil wells are scattered across the Kurdish areas, in particular in Rmeilan. After the outbreak of the Syrian revolution and with the displacement of the area’s residents to neighboring countries such as Iraq and Turkey, the oil wells were almost shut down.
The authorities tried to operate some of the wells, at least partly, to allow the residents to get by and to deter them from resorting to dangerous means of oil extraction that caused explosions, which led to deaths and injuries.
In some areas of Syria, such as Deir ez-Zor, tribes took over the oil wells and started running them for individual interests. Later on, in mid-2014, IS, hoping to finance its military forces, tried to invade all Kurdish oil-bearing areas to control the wells and impose a monopoly over all the oil resources.
However, the situation in the Kurdish areas was different from the other provinces and areas in Syria. The Kurdish forces that controlled these areas, such as the People’s Protection Units, fought and deterred IS, therefore keeping the oil wells intact.
Engineer Muhammad Ali told Al-Monitor, “Under [Bashar] al-Assad’s regime, Rmeilan oil fields were highly productive. The oil proceeds accounted for one-third of the Syrian national product, but the tense political and security situation in Syria led to the closure of many oil wells that lost their value and standing.”
He added, “Oil proceeds resulted mostly from the wells in the Kurdish region, yet we were often short of oil due to the policy of the ruling Socialist Arab Baath Party in Syria that aimed to impoverish our region. IS tried to implement the same scenario by controlling and exploiting oil wells, but it was forced out by the Kurdish forces who defended their regions. Although oil proceeds are currently insignificant, oil is available in our fields at a knock-out price.”
Despite the prevailing tensions in Syria in general, the Kurds tightened their grip on the oil wells and oil production. In early 2014, oil distribution became, in light of the declaration of self-rule in the Kurdish provinces in Rojava, governed by laws. Any party seeking to monopolize this substance or sell it on the black market was liable for arrest.
Civil engineer Mona Ibrahim Dawud, co-head of the Municipality of People in Derbasiya, told Al-Monitor, “On a daily basis, we obtain approximately 75,000 liters of diesel fuel from the wells to cover the needs of the citizens. We are approaching the summer season, and the agricultural region of Derbasiya and its countryside under our administration need water to irrigate the crops through artesian wells requiring engines to pump up water. Moreover, a large share of oil is allocated to reconstruction and public works companies operating within our region.”
She added, “A shortage was registered in the winter, which led us to distribute oil over two batches to the citizens. Each family was entitled to two batches of 320 liters. Seven municipalities are subordinated to the Municipal Council of Derbasiya, with a total population of 20,000 people. We have almost 94 employees in our municipality, and our monthly salaries budget reaches nearly 3 million Syrian pounds [around $13,000] – a huge amount given the situation in the region. The democratic self-rule [Rojava] region supplies our areas with fuel at a cheap price of nearly 35 Syrian pounds per liter [about $0.15].”
Derbasiya lies on the Syrian-Turkish border. In addition to its contribution to the Syrian national oil proceeds, it is characterized by its fertile soil and agricultural crops. These areas were Syria’s oil lifeline under Assad’s regime. Before the outbreak of the Syrian revolution, oil was intensively abundant at a giveaway price of approximately $0.3 per liter.
Mohammed Khalaf, the co-head of Shaab Municipality in Derbasiya, told Al-Monitor, “We suffered a sharp oil crisis. Oil was monopolized by smugglers and outlaws, especially at the onset of the Syrian crisis. At a later stage in early 2014, things were controlled by the Kurdish authorities who controlled the region after the outbreak of the revolution in 2011. They arrested any person trying to monopolize or steal oil and sell it at higher prices.”
He added, “We did not deal with them in our capacity as a state authority, but we rather tried to reason with them and convince them that we must work together to build our region and protect our citizens. These persons cooperated with us, and we were able to ensure a fair distribution of oil over the regions based on the people’s needs. We also made sure that the local administrations supervised the whole process to protect the people’s rights.”
Despite all attempts to control oil resources and ensure their fair distribution to the citizens, the Rojava residents are still demanding officials to exert more effort to ensure the provision of oil quantities and improve the quality of the oil resources.
This is especially true after the declaration of a Kurdish federation under the democratic self-rule system on March 17. This declared federation has yet to obtain international recognition amid intensive Kurdish efforts.
Massoud Hamed holds a master’s degree in journalism and is a doctoral student at Paris-Sorbonne University. He won the 2005 cyberfreedom prize from Reporters Without Borders and is director of the Nudem Media Association in Syria.
 Deir ez-Zor, also spelled Deir Ezzor, Deir Al-Zor, Deir-al-Zour, Dayr Al-Zawr, Der Ezzor and other variants, is the seventh largest city in Syria and the largest in the eastern part of Syria. (Wikipedia)
The United States has nearly finished setting up an air base in Kurdish-controlled northern Syria and was proceeding with the construction of a second base for dual military and civilian use, a Kurdish website said on Sunday.
The Erbil-based news website BasNews, quoting a military source in the Kurdish-backed Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), said most of the work on a runway in the oil town of Rmeilan in Hasaka was complete while a new air base southeast of Kobani, straddling the Turkish border, was being constructed.
The source in the U.S.-backed alliance that also includes Arab armed groups told the news portal scores of U.S. experts and technicians were involved in the project.
Syrian Kurdish officials had recently said the Rmeilan airstrip was being used by U.S. military helicopters for logistics and deliveries.
The United States sent dozens of special operations troops to northern Syria last year to advise opposition forces in their fight against the militant group Islamic State. They have also dropped supply munitions to rebels in the province.
Last month, U.S. advisors backed by coalition air strikes assisted Kurdish-led Syrian rebels in encircling and capturing the strategic Syrian town of Shadadi from Islamic State but were away from the frontlines, U.S. officials said.
The Syrian Kurds have established control over wide areas of northern Syria since the country erupted into civil war in 2011, and their YPG militia has become a major partner in the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State.
U.S. military ties with the Syrian Kurds have grown deeper despite the concerns of NATO ally Turkey, which views the Syrian Kurdish PYD party as a terrorist group because of its links to the PKK, which is waging an insurgency in Turkey.
The special U.S. presidential envoy to the coalition against Islamic State, Brett McGurk, visited Kurdish-controlled northern Syria several weeks ago in what appeared to be the first declared trip to Syrian territory by an Obama administration official in three years.
McGurk said on Saturday in Baghdad the coalition was stepping up pressure on Islamic State and that the militants were losing ground in both Syria and Iraq.ed for use by the U.S.
U.S. ‘takes control’ of Rmeilan airfield in Syria
U.S. troops have taken control of Rmeilan airfield in Syria’s northern province of Hasakah to support Kurdish fighters against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a spokesperson for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) told Al Jazeera.
The airfield near the city of Rmeilan, which will become the first U.S.-controlled airbase in Syria, was previously controlled by the U.S-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).
The airfield is close to Syria’s borders with Iraq and Turkey. Under a deal with the YPG, the U.S. was given control of the airport. The purpose of this deal is to back up the SDF, by providing weapons and an airbase for U.S. warplanes,” Taj Kordsh, a media activist from the SDF told Al Jazeera on Tuesday.
“This airport was previously controlled by the YPG for over two years now. This strategic airport is close to several oil bases – one of the biggest in this area.
“Rmeilan airport was previously used for agricultural purposes by the Syrian government,” he said.
Previous reports published by the Syrian Local Coordination Committees say that the U.S. has been preparing and expanding Rmeilan airport for a while now.
When asked by Al Jazeera, a U.S. CENTCOM media operations officer did not confirm or deny the reports.
The U.S. has previously supplied the SDF with weapons. It also backs the group with its air strikes in their fight against (ISIL) in northern Syria.
The SDF was founded in Syria’s mainly Kurdish northeastern region in October 2015, and is made up of at least 15 armed factions – mostly fighters from the YPG and the Free Syrian Army.
The fighters include Christians, Arabs and about 500 foreign fighters, Kordsh said, adding that some groups in Aleppo and Idlib pledged allegiance to the SDF last month.
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