The Syrian Phosphate War … Tehran’s Large Acquisition versus the Little Interference of the Opposition
Wars taking place in the eastern part of the Syrian city Homs have a hidden side that justifies the Syrian regime and its allies’ great control over the region. After days of taking control over the phosphate mines, at the end of May, Al-Assad and his allied militias started signing contracts with Tehran for the acquisition of these mines.
The mines are distributed in As Sawwanah and Khunayfis regions in the south – eastern countryside of Homs. The Syrian regime has already signed a contract with Iran earlier this year, during a visit of Prime Minister Imad Khamis to Tehran. The contract included the exploration, extraction and investment of phosphate for 50 years.
Last week, the Syrian Investment Agency approved the licensing of five projects owned by the Lebanese businessman Pierre Fattoush and his associates. The license allows them to extract crude phosphate in Homs for three years, with a production capacity of one to ten million tons annually.
According to Lebanese websites, Fattoush, nicknamed “King of Drilling Machines” in Lebanon, has strong relations with prominent figures in the Syrian regime, especially the Director of the National Security Bureau, Ali Mamlouk.
The Syrian Phosphate was Discovered by the Soviets
The discovery of phosphate ores in Syria dates back to the 1930s, when France carried out limited studies at the foothills of the mountain of Al-Sukhnah town, which is located to the left of the Damascus – Palmyra road. However, these studies stopped with the French evacuation and with the outbreak of World War II. But in the early 1960s, the Soviet mission carried out extensive studies and confirmed the presence of phosphate in large areas of the Syrian Badia, the most important of which are the areas of Khunayfis, As Sawwanah and Wadi Al- Awabed.
In 1970, the General Company for Phosphate and Mines (GECOPHAM) was established to start investing in phosphate, but with limited quantities of production and reserves of no more than 576 million tons. With the increase in the exploration works, the number doubled after 1998 until the Syrian phosphate reserves reached 1.8 billion tons of crude phosphate in 2009, according to the company’s general statistics.
Syria’s exports of phosphate to the world markets reached more than 3.2 million tons, which made Syria one of the world’s top phosphate – exporting countries.
Syria occupies the fifth position in the list of phosphate – exporting countries in 2011. India, Russia, Lebanon, Romania and Greece are among the leading countries which import phosphate from Syria.
According to the “Syria-oil” website, in 2009, the company’s former director, Farhan Mohsen, said that “in 2008, the profits of (GECOPHAM) reached about two billion and two million Syrian Pounds.”
Two Mines under Iran’s Control and with the Syrian Government’s Facilities
As the Syrian phosphate is of great importance, Iran has taken possession of its fields by signing contracts that last for decades with the Syrian regime, as a price of its military and political support. Therefore, Iran managed to take over the Syrian phosphate because of these agreements, according to what the expert in the field of oil and mineral resources, Abdel Qader Al-Allaf, said to Enab Baladi.
Al-Allaf explained that the regime has paid an expensive bill to Iran through the Phosphate Agreement. The latter included the mines of Khunayfis that are located 60 kilometers away from the south-west of Palmyra, one of the largest and most important phosphate mines in Syria.
He added that the Syrian phosphate is characterized by the presence of Phosphorus Pentoxide (P2O5), as its percentage in Khunayfis ores ranges between 28 % and 34 %.
The Khunayfis mine and Al- Sharqiyah (As Sawwanah) mines, which are located 45 km away from the south – west of Palmyra, are the most important phosphate extraction areas in Syria. In 2009, the total production capacity of the two mines reached 2.65 million tons, 800 thousand tons of which were extracted from The Khunayfis mine and 1.85 million tons were extracted from the two mines of “Al- Sharqiyah” (A and B).
The Syrian regime has not only given the mines to Iran, but it is also trying to transport its products from Homs to the port of Tartus by train, according to the Syrian Transport Minister Ali Hammoud.
On June 1, Hammoud said that, according to the Syrian official news agency (SANA), “the government is planning to connect the train line with the phosphate mines in the east of Homs. This step will complement the business by loading the train with wheat from the port of Tartus to the silos of Shinshar. The train itself would return loaded with phosphates. This would be beneficial to the national economy, the port, as well as the General Company of Railways.”
In its turn, Iran seeks to open a road from the Syrian Badia to Tehran, across the Syrian – Iraqi borders, but it would collide with US and British forces at At Tanf border base.
Unfair Agreements and the Interference of the Opposition
Economists believe that the agreement is unfair to the Syrian people, since it deprives them of their right to benefit from the phosphate resources, which can be extracted from the mines, for 50 years. This could cause heavy economic burdens on the post – war government, which might be affiliated with the countries that dominated the Syrian economy, especially Iran and Russia.
According to the law, these agreements, which are signed between the Syrian regime, Iran and Russia, are legally binding and enforceable, since both sides are members of United Nations’ organizatins.
However, Abdullah Razzouk, the Minister of Services in the Syrian Interim Government of the Syrian opposition, considered that these agreements are legally nonbinding, because there is no legitimate government that is selected and elected by the entire Syrian people.
In an interview with Enab Baladi, Minister Razzouk said that when things return to the normal situation and Syrian people select who will rule, all agreements with Iran and other countries, which take advantage of killing the Syrian people, will be reconsidered.
Concerning the opposition’s interference and its movements at the international level in order to stop these agreements, the minister stressed that the opposition expressed its refusal of these agreements to most of its supporters since the very first time they were signed, in January 2017. Subsequently, it put more names on the list of European and American sanctions. This might hinder these agreements in the future, until the situation would be finally resolved.
According to Razzouk, after seven years of war, 40 % of Syria’s resources became under the control of the Iranian regime, in addition to its great influence on the remaining part after buying Syria’s capabilities, by signing agreements in favor of a regime which participated in killing the Syrian people. Syrians expect that, in the future, Iran and Russia will economically dominate and control the country’s economy, whether the Syrian regime remained or is ousted.