Continuing tension in Deir Ezzor; SDF seeks “formal” reforms

SDF’s Special Forces head from the city of al-Tabqa to the eastern Deir Ezzor region to participate in the “security promotion” campaign - August 27, 2023 (SDF/screengrab)

SDF’s Special Forces head from the city of al-Tabqa to the eastern Deir Ezzor region to participate in the “security promotion” campaign - August 27, 2023 (SDF/screengrab)


Enab Baladi – Khaled al-Jeratli

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) did not take steps to correct the mistakes it had previously acknowledged in areas of control in the northeastern region, even to a minimum, despite the chronic security tension that the Deir Ezzor governorate suffers from.

 On the contrary, the SDF has repeatedly targeted civilians and military personnel.

 Even the United States, SDF’s key ally, which previously criticized the Kurdish-led force for the exclusion policy against the Arab component in the oil-rich region, has not intervened effectively to date.

 In the latest developments in the security tension, Sherwan Hassan, an SDF official, was assassinated in Deir Ezzor, as one of the former SDF commanders told Enab Baladi.

Hassan, or Rony Polat, was dubbed locally as the High Commissioner in reference to the era of French colonialism in Syria. He was considered the second military figure after the leader of the SDF, Mazloum Abdi.

No group has claimed responsibility for the assassination.

Hassan was killed after leaving a meeting with the US-led International Coalition at the Omar Field base, east of Deir Ezzor, and one of the main demands of the Arab component in the uprising against the SDF was to remove him from Deir Ezzor.

No change in the administration method

The Commander-in-Chief of the SDF, Mazloum Abdi, promised, last September, during his speech to foreign and Arab media, the tribes of the region to provide “reforms” that would meet their demands, but no changes were observed on the ground, as security campaigns and arrests continued against the local residents.

During the same interviews, Abdi admitted to what he called “mismanagement,” which led to the formation of a state of rejection of the SDF in the region, but in return, he made a pledge for reform, which was not concretely reflected in the SDF’s discourse directed inward.

On November 29, the SDF held an expanded meeting that included representatives of the International Coalition and sheikhs and notables from the Akidat tribe, one of the largest clans in Deir Ezzor.

The SDF published on its official website at the time that the meeting mainly focused on discussing the current events in the Deir Ezzor region, especially regarding attempts to “stir discord” between the various components of the region using different names and “sectarian slogans.”

A former commander in the Deir Ezzor Military Council, formerly affiliated with the SDF, and one of the tribal notables in Deir Ezzor told Enab Baladi at the time that those who attended the meeting were the notables of the SDF and had nothing to do with representing the tribes of the region.

The leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added that it would be more beneficial for the Coalition to meet with the real tribal sheikhs and not with those appointed by the SDF to serve it in exchange for what is known as a “valid card,” to facilitate their passage through military checkpoints or the release of a detainee from prison.

The general picture of the SDF’s handling of the demands of the people of the region appears to be the same as it was before the armed uprising that broke out in Deir Ezzor against it, despite the admission of mistakes and promises of reform.

Economic hardship is a reason

Local residents are demanding that the SDF hand over the administration of the region to them at the economic and service levels since Deir Ezzor is considered the richest Syrian governorate in terms of oil wealth.

But its residents suffer from a scarcity of fuel, and high prices make some families unable to buy it.

The Euphrates River separates the region from the areas controlled by the Syrian regime, whose economy has been restricted by the international sanctions imposed on it, making it a major source of supply for basic goods in the regime’s market on the western bank of the river.

Manaf Kuman, an economic research fellow at Omran Center for Strategic Studies, told Enab Baladi that SDF produces 48,500 barrels per day from oil wells in Deir Ezzor out of 80,000 to 120,000 barrels of its total daily production.

The SDF distributes part of this production to oil “burners” for local consumption, which is the smallest part of the production, in addition to another part that it exports to Iraqi Kurdistan for sale and a part that is sold in opposition-controlled areas in northwestern Syria.

The researcher added that the largest portion of oil production is sold to the Syrian regime via two routes, the first passing through Raqqa towards regime-controlled areas and the second via river crossings that connect the two banks of the Euphrates River, east of Deir Ezzor.

Out of 13 active crossings on both banks of the Euphrates, the researcher said that these crossings over time formed a commercial artery for both banks, especially since the transport of goods depends on smuggling, and therefore most of them are prohibited items.

It also constitutes a source for supplying both banks with consumer goods, according to the researcher, in addition to about 7,500 barrels of oil per day that cross Deir Ezzor governorate towards areas controlled by the Syrian regime.

The researcher pointed out that the region constitutes a main base for the SDF’s economy, which should not be neglected.

The researcher estimated the SDF’s economic revenues from exporting oil to the Syrian regime through smuggling crossings alone in eastern Deir Ezzor at more than four million US dollars per month.

Last August, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (SDF’s political umbrella) announced for the first time the amount of oil production in the fields it controls in northeastern Syria, confirming that it sells a portion of the production to the Syrian regime.

Hassan Kujar, AANES Deputy Co-Chairman of the Executive Council, told the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, “The administration invests less than half of the wells and oil fields in the areas under its control in northeastern Syria.”

He added that the “Administration” sells part of the oil production to merchants affiliated with the Syrian regime at “nominal” prices compared to their global counterparts.

Kujar stressed that the “Administration” is dealing with the regime in selling a portion of its oil production to it unofficially and at nominal prices, noting that there are challenges in organizing sales operations due to the siege imposed on the areas it controls.

Steps for reform not yet yielded results

On October 23, the Civil Administration of the Autonomous Administration in Deir Ezzor held a conference called “Strengthening Security and Stability Towards Developing and Consolidating Participation in Deir Ezzor.”

A delegation from the Autonomous Administration and another from the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), members of civil and military institutions, tribal sheikhs and notables, and political parties participated in the conference.

The Administration proposed a set of outcomes consisting of 42 items, most notably the restructuring of the local, legislative, executive, and municipal councils, the arrangement of the Internal Security forces (Asayish) and the Deir Ezzor Military Council within six months, and compensation for the families affected by the recent events in Deir Ezzor.

The outputs were based on reports from the committee for this purpose, in addition to forming a committee from the Civil Administration and the security forces to open and organize four humanitarian and commercial crossings.

According to residents of various villages and towns east of Deir Ezzor, whom Enab Baladi contacted, the heating fuel crisis is still looming over the region, in addition to agricultural fuel and food supplies crises.

On October 19, Sheikh Ibrahim al-Hafel, one of the sheikhs of the Akidat tribe and the faces of the tribal uprising in Deir Ezzor, said that tribal fighters would soon take over the administration of the region, referring to the SDF-held eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor.

Al-Hafel added, according to a video recording while he was with local fighters on November 18, that “painful” strikes would be directed at the SDF in the coming days, calling on the people of the region to stay away from the latter’s military headquarters.

According to al-Hafel, the location of the video recording was on the fighting fronts with the SDF, east of Deir Ezzor.

The SDF accuses al-Hafel of being supported by the Syrian regime “to strike civil peace in Deir Ezzor,” which he did not deny during his repeated statements, despite the passage of months since the confrontations between the groups he led and the SDF forces.



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