[Marxism] Baathists and al-Qaeda linked groups share oil/gas proceeds
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Jan 29 07:40:19 MST 2014
NY Times, Jan. 29 2014
Rebels in Syria Claim Control of Resources
By BEN HUBBARD, CLIFFORD KRAUSS and ERIC SCHMITT
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Islamist rebels and extremist groups have seized
control of most of Syria’s oil and gas resources, a rare generator of
cash in the country’s war-battered economy, and are now using the
proceeds to underwrite their fights against one another as well as
President Bashar al-Assad, American officials say.
While the oil and gas fields are in serious decline, control of them has
bolstered the fortunes of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS,
and the Nusra Front, both of which are offshoots of Al Qaeda. The
Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is even selling fuel to the Assad
government, lending weight to allegations by opposition leaders that it
is secretly working with Damascus to weaken the other rebel groups and
discourage international support for their cause.
Although there is no clear evidence of direct tactical coordination
between the group and Mr. Assad, American officials say that his
government has facilitated the group’s rise not only by purchasing its
oil but by exempting some of its headquarters from the airstrikes that
have tormented other rebel groups.
The Nusra Front and other groups are providing fuel to the government,
too, in exchange for electricity and relief from airstrikes, according
to opposition activists in Syria’s oil regions.
The scramble for Syria’s oil is described by analysts as a war within
the broader civil war, one that is turning what was once an essential
source of income for Syria into a driving force in a conflict that is
tearing the country apart. “Syria is an oil country and has resources,
but in the past they were all stolen by the regime,” said Abu Nizar, an
antigovernment activist in Deir al-Zour. “Now they are being stolen by
those who are profiting from the revolution.”
He described the situation in his oil-rich province as “overwhelming chaos.”
The Western-backed rebel groups do not appear to be involved in the oil
trade, in large part because they have not taken over any oil fields.
Syria was once an important supplier of oil to Europe, and attracted
international oil companies like Royal Dutch Shell and Suncor to develop
its fields. Declining even before the anti-Assad uprising began, the oil
industry has taken a beating since, with production down to no more than
80,000 barrels a day at the end of 2013 from about 400,000 barrels a day
in 2011. Violence has damaged pipelines and other infrastructure,
aggravating energy shortages and leaving the country heavily dependent
on imports from its allies.
As the war has progressed, rebel groups have seized control of the oil
and gas fields scattered across the country’s north and east, while
Kurdish militias have taken over areas near the border with Iraqi Kurdistan.
Filling the void left by the government’s withdrawal is a Wild West-like
patchwork of local efforts to try to wring any possible profit from the
remnants of the oil industry. In some areas, locals have used primitive
methods to extract usable products from crude they drain from pipelines
or storage tanks, often causing environmental and health problems in
Elaborate trade networks have also evolved, with oil being smuggled
across borders in plastic jugs and transported by trucks and on donkeys
into Iraq and Turkey.
“The government practically doesn’t control anything anymore,” said
Dragan Vuckovic, president of Mediterranean International, an oil
service company that operates across the Middle East and North Africa.
“The oil is controlled by crooks and extremists. They sell it for a
bargain wherever they can find a buyer.”
Oil has proved to be a boon for the extremists of the Islamic State of
Iraq and Syria, who have seized control of most of the oil-rich northern
province of Raqqa. The group typically sells crude to middlemen who
resell it to the government but sometimes sells it directly to the
government, said Omar Abu Laila, a spokesman for the rebels’ Supreme
“Selling the oil brings in more cash, so why not sell it to the regime,
which offers higher prices?” he asked.
An American official said the United States had received multiple
credible reports that the Syrian government had purchased crude from the
Islamic State of Iraq and Syria that was delivered in tanker trucks from
areas the group controls to behind Syrian government lines.
The official also said Mr. Assad’s government had refrained from bombing
the group’s headquarters in Raqqa and elsewhere, although their
locations are well known and clearly marked with black flags and banners.
A second American official said that while Mr. Assad’s government is
growing ever more desperate for oil, the group is becoming increasingly
independent of wealthy donors in the Persian Gulf and other funding
sources. As the group has gained control of more territory, it has been
able to sustain its operations through a combination of oil revenues,
border tolls, extortion and granary sales, the official said.
While other American officials discounted the possibility of tactical
military cooperation between the group and Mr. Assad’s government, they
said that Syrian intelligence had almost certainly infiltrated
opposition groups, including the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and the
Nusra Front, to track their activities.
“The Syrian regime is as Machiavellian as they come, and there is little
it won’t do to hold on to power,” said an American counterterrorism
official. “If the regime could strike a tactical accord with an enemy
faction to achieve its larger strategic goals, it probably would.”
Denied access to Syria’s oil regions, Mr. Assad’s government has become
increasingly dependent on its foreign allies and imports most of its
fuel from Iran and Iraq, while Hezbollah smuggles diesel and gasoline
over the border from Lebanon, according to regional oil experts. The
opposition also accuses Syria’s Kurds of providing the government with oil.
While rebel oil revenues are small by world market standards, they can
help groups exercise local power as well as finance their operations.
“Even sold at discounted prices, this oil could be generating
significant revenue for rebels to arm themselves,” said Badr H. Jafar,
chairman of Crescent Petroleum, a regional oil and gas company based in
the United Arab Emirates.
The politics of the local oil trade can be complex, insiders say. When
the Nusra Front and other rebel groups took over a natural gas facility
in the northern province of Hasaka, they sought to cut the supply to a
government facility, said Amer Abdy, a local activist.
But local tribal leaders objected, saying that would simply invite
government airstrikes to destroy the plant. So they brokered a deal to
keep a limited amount of gas flowing so the area would not be bombed,
Mr. Abdy said.
When the government first withdrew from the oil fields of Deir al-Zour
Province in the country’s east, said Abu Nizar, an activist there, rebel
brigades and local tribes took control of wells and sold or tried to
refine whatever oil they could extract to buy arms. Recently, however,
most of the area’s rebel brigades have left the administration of the
wells to an Islamic legal commission set up to run local affairs, he said.
One facility the group controls is a natural gas plant that feeds a
major power station near Homs that is still controlled by the government.
“We can’t cut off the gas because it would lead to a power cut in a
large part of Syria,” Abu Nizar said, adding that he hoped the new
commission would effectively manage the area’s resources.
“Let’s be honest. Some of the wells were used to arm the rebels and to
fund aid operations,” he said, “but unfortunately the majority were
robbed and exploited by thieves.”
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