The horrifying spectre of a SDF-US oil deal

A state which very reluctantly offers its visa only after receiving allegiance to the centralism of Turkey and to the leadership of the Turk following a thorough body search to the ideas that arrive to its custom gates, demands the exact opposite when it turns toward the Kurd: A rootless and nationless global muslim brotherhood.” This long sentence by Mücahit Bilici* is perhaps the most concise summary of the ruling islamist mentality today in Ankara. This socio-political background feeds also well into understanding the reaction or lack of policy towards the recent oil deal signed by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) or the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES.) Let me try and explain how.

There had never been a historical shortage of self-acclaimed Colonel Kurtzes** in these lands. They firmly believe that they’ve seen horrors and that we have no right to call them murderers. They also believe that horror has a face and that horror and moral terror are their (ergo “our”) friends. On the opposite corner, if one pushes the analogy a bit, there is the local variety of (Tony Blair’s) “Mondeo man” who in this case is a small-time dealer/trader pious on the outside, avid for profit on the inside.

The unexpected twist in the plot is the cooperation between the two who did not seem to be destined to be partners in crime at the outset. Yet, more or less, that’s what has happened, and even increasingly so, following the failed 15th of July, 2016 military coup attempt. Fast forward to our day, these strange bedfellows started to look for their fortunes overseas in the sands of Libya and in the high waters across the East Mediterranean. The game, although void of any tangible content, helped keep the old leaking boat afloat.   

Now enter a third character, a “wildcat” oil company of the wildest sort: Delta Crescent Energy LLC. Members of its triumvirate are almost archetypical: Mr. Dorrier of the industry (Gulfsands) in charge of operations and trading, the ex-Delta Force colonel Mr. Reese in charge of protection, and lawyer cum ambassador Mr. Cain in charge of navigating politics and avoiding legal troubles. The shadow cast by the deal presently signed is bigger than itself as it is blessed first by Senator Graham and then by none other than the U.S. Secretary of State himself, Mr. Pompeo.

The coincidence of U.S. Syria Special Representative Ambassador Jeffrey’s apparent sudden discovery of finding wheels under his chair and the rumor of alleged silent approval of Ankara of the deal obtained through diplomatic channels by him is intriguing yet of minor, tabloid interest. The silence of Moscow, which is real, so to speak, speaks for itself. While Ankara’s and Damascus’ furore is the least bit unexpected. Last but not the least, as a guest star appearance, Cemil Bayık’s statement from Qandil of ignorance is not the more so convincing.

The home-grown Kurtzes are happy to build their wall along the Syrian border, to slice the “terror corridor”, to impose a “buffer zone” inside Iraq, to choke Habur border gate and turn their sub-imperialist gaze towards Libya and the East Mediterranean which are seen as inherent parts of the “Blue Homeland.” For the “Mondeo men” (late journalist Mr. Ufuk Güldemir had coined the term “shopkeeper’s” or “kiosque-keeper’s Islam” to give his memory due credit) the appearance of the “wildcat” across the border may have been appetizing but we are not in early 2010’s.

In fact, the deal itself is but about bringing two modular refineries to AANES soil. The fields in question, with current and foreseeable oil prices, are not worthy of investment. Heavy oil with no or little profit, will be extracted and most of the fields needs thorough rehabilitation. The market will not be local meaning not Syrian, the door to Turkey is sealed, hence the only way the oil can flow is towards the East, hence to the Iraq Kurdistan Region (IKR). IKR currently struggles with its own production but still it has a commitment to provide Baghdad with electricity.   

In short, does all this mean that the SDF oil deal is too much ado about nothing? Not so fast. First, the official waiver obtained from the Caesar Act is in itself no small feat. Then, if diplomatic “sang-froid” is absent down here since a long while nowadays, across the Atlantic at least the International Affairs Office of the US Department of Energy led by Mr. Matt Zeiss appears to have a better idea. It is in US’ interest to see Turkey receiving crude oil from both the IKR and Iraq itself, and provide oil products and electricity towards them. A three-way potential mutual dependency solution among Turkey-IKR and AANES is the U.S. mirage in the horizon.

As such, Turkey would be an agent of stability in its region and both IKR’s and Iraq’s ties with their eastern troublesome neighbour Iran will be loosened. AANES will turn its face more towards Erbil than Damascus, will in time look more like KRG and by default become more palatable for Ankara to do business with. Furthermore, if the heavy oil that will be extracted in those AANES fields can be used in producing fuel oil that in turn will be burned to generate power for Iraq, there is your monetization scheme, assuming that Delta Crescent’s main interest is not humanitarian aid.

So who will have upper hand at the end of this “Kurtzes v. Wildcats” game? If the wildcats can play the patient long game and manage to navigate Ankara’s choppy waters, they can still bring their ship to the safety of a calm harbour. How? Either by adding to their team another “Mr.Cain” from Turkey and/or joining hands with a “Mondeo Man” company –if they haven’t done so already. As for the larger political solution involving the Kurds inside and outside the borders, the spectator will need to wait for the outcome of the next elections. Fasten your seat belts and bring your seats to an upright position, this soap-opera is not over yet.  

*Translation is mine. My readily offered apologies for any potential misrepresentation to esteemed Dr. Mücahit Bilici who is currently a professor at CUNY.

**In Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 feature film ”Apocalypse Now” the main character Colonel Kurtz was played by Marlon Brando. These lines are from that character’s notorious monologue in the movie.

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