The Syrian Foreign Ministry said that an American oil company had signed an agreement with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), calling it an illegal deal aimed at “stealing” Syrian crude.
The ministry’s statement, released to state media on Sunday, did not name the company involved in the deal with the SDF, a alliance of militias which seized parts of northern and eastern Syria from ISIS and carved out autonomous regions.
The statement came a few days later US Senator Lindsey Graham and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed an oilfield deal between the SDF and a US company during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.
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Graham said during Thursday’s hearing that SDF Commander General Mazloum Abdi had informed him that an agreement had been signed with an American company to “modernize the oil fields in northeastern Syria” , and asked Pompeo if the administration was in favor.
“We are,” Pompeo replied. “The deal took a little longer… than we had hoped, and now we are in the process of being implemented. “
The Syrian Foreign Ministry statement said that Damascus “condemns in the strongest terms the agreement signed between the al-Qasd militia (FDS) and an American oil company to steal Syrian oil under the sponsorship and support of the American administration ”.
He added: “This agreement is null and void and has no legal basis. “
Syria produced around 380,000 barrels of oil per day before plunging into war following a crackdown on protests in 2011.
During the long-running conflict, which saw the involvement of many international powers and ISIS to seize large parts of the country for years, Damascus lost control of most of the oil fields in a stretch to l east of the Euphrates at Deir az Zor.
Western sanctions have also taken a toll on the Syrian energy industry.
US President Donald Trump has shown a keen interest in the oil fields of northeastern Syria. Despite the announcement of a US military withdrawal from the region in December 2018, Trump also pledged that a small number of US forces would remain “where they have oil.”
Trump was criticized by Congress for the pullout, with some prominent Republicans claiming the administration was abandoning Kurdish allies who had helped defeat ISIS (ISIS) in the region.
Critics also said the move opened the region to increased influence from Russia, whose military support was essential for al-Assad to take over large swathes of the country.
The Pentagon said late last year that revenues from the oilfields would go to the SDF.
The makeup of the alliance is largely made up of fighters from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) – a group considered “terrorist” by Turkey – and small groups of Arab, Turkmen and Armenian fighters.
Following the announcement of Trump’s withdrawal, Ankara launched a military operation in northern Syria with the stated aim of removing the SDF from Turkey’s border region and creating a so-called “safe zone” where millions of The Syrian refugees he hosted could be reinstalled.