Syria Kurds earning
millions from oil sales

The PYD has been exporting oil through Kurdish territory in northern Iraq.


BEIRUT – The de-facto autonomous Kurdish Rojava region of Syria has been earning tens of millions of dollars in revenues from its recent oil exports shipped through Iraqi Kurdistan.

“Syrian Kurdistan has been exporting its oil from the Rmeilan refinery using a pipeline built by the Baath party government,” Iraqi Kurdish Rudaw news reported Monday.


“[The oil is then] transferred to the Alyuka refinery in the [Iraqi Kurdish] Zumar area, from there to Fishkhabour, and then on to Turkey’s Ceyhan port.”


A “well informed source” told the agency that “the revenue from importing this oil exceeds $10 million” a month, a massive boon for the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) that has overseen a dramatic expansion of territory as Kurdish troops have rolled back ISIS in recent months.


The PYD’s booming oil business is being operated in co-operation with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which has been at odds with the Syrian Kurds politically.


Interestingly, the oil exports have also come as Ankara wages its military campaign against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Turkey, which is affiliated with the PYD.


The beginning of the deal


Rudaw said that the Iraqi Peshmerga campaign to retake the Zumar and Rabia areas near the border with Syria had allowed the “PYD… to export the oil under its control to the outside world.”


The Peshmerga routed ISIS from Zumar in late October 2014 following weeks of battles outside the town that saw international coalition jets provide aerial cover for the advancing Kurdish forces.


An official in the area with knowledge of how oil is transferred from Syria explained how the deal between the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds had come about.


“Several oil experts met with PYD leaders in western Kurdistan - [Syria] - [to discuss] how oil from the Rmeilan field could be sold via the Alyuka refineries near the Rabia district village of Mahmoudiyya,” the official, who preferred not to reveal his name told Rudaw.


“Oil from those areas… was being sold using tankers, and some of it was going to waste because of smuggling.”


“So the PYD was forced to look for another method and reach an agreement with this part of Kurdistan,” the official said in reference to northern Iraq’s Kurdistan region.


“There are over 500 oil wells [near] that refinery and they [occupy an] area of approximately 10 square kilometers.”




According to Rudaw, the oil is being transferred via a “pipeline that is 10 inches in diameter and 9 kilometers long, stretching from the Rmeilan refinery in western Kurdistan to the Soufia refinery (Alyuka).”


A source in the Kurdistan Regional government’s Ministry of Natural Resources told the agency that “until 2003, the Iraqi government exported 17 thousand barrels of oil per day via that pipeline from the Soufia and Ayn Zala refineries to Syria.”


The source explained that this had been done so that the Syrian government could “provide electricity to those border areas.”


“However, the export operation stopped after 2003.”


Parties to the deal


The official from the area said that the agreement had been signed by “oil investors” and not PYD officials in person.


However, he added, the PYD “were informed and they are supervising everything.”


“With regard to southern Kurdistan, it was a company and not the KRG that signed the deal, and it is [the company] that directly hands over the sums in cash every month.”


“Around 20,000 barrels of oil are exported monthly to the Soufia field, and from there they are transported by tanker to the Kurdistan region’s refineries.”


“A moral duty”


“We do not have the details on the sale of western Kurdistan’s oil,” Kurdistan Parliament MP Ali Halo from the Energy and Natural Resources Committee told Rudaw.


“However we support helping western Kurdistan both economically and in terms of morale.”


With regard to the effect the sale of PYD controlled oil via the Kurdistan region could have on KRG-Turkish relations, Halo said that helping Syrian Kurds was mandatory.


“We are mindful of those states in every way, but helping Kurds in western Kurdistan is a moral, national and humanitarian duty.”


Turkey in late July launched a wide scale military campaign against the PYD-affiliated PKK, conducting airstrikes against the Turkish-based insurgent group in Iraq with the acquiescence of the KRG.


Moreover, Ankara has raised fears over the PYD's expansion in northern Syria along Turkey's border, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowing he would not accept a Kurdish state in the area. 




An oil expert told the agency that the PYD is making $10 million every month from the exports.


“The PYD is getting $10 million a month out of the revenues from selling that oil through the Kurdistan Democratic Party and oil companies close to it,” Dr. Bewar Khansi said.


“This is a great financial boon for the PYD and western [Syrian] Kurdistan.”


With regard to the quality of the oil, Khansi said that “the Soufia oil’s ATI is made up of 24 units, which means that it is neither good nor bad. It can be considered medium quality.”


“For oil to be good its ATI has to be made up of over 30 units. This is what is known as light oil.”


“Western Kurdistan’s oil is shared with southern [Iraqi] Kurdistan’s oil: 30% of it is in the south and 70% of it is in the west.”


Erbil and Damascus have been informed


A source told Rudaw that the operation could not have gone ahead without the consent of “the Ministry of Natural Resources, and the PYD authority also informs the Syrian government.”


The source added that Syrian Kurdistan does not export all of its oil to Iraq’s Kurdistan region.


“It uses some of it in small refineries in western Kurdistan [to make] Kerosene and Benzene, [and to generate] electricity.”


“It also gives some of it to the Syrian government, and it is not unlikely that it also gives some of the [revenues] to Syrian government.”

Syria's Rmeilan refinery. (AFP/Yousseff Karwashan)

It also gives some of it to the Syrian government, and it is not unlikely that it also gives some of the [revenues] to Syrian government.