ISIS is Accidentally Helping the Kurdish Cause

Published October 2nd, 2017 - 01:12 GMT
Regime-loyal militia soldiers overlooking a town near Deir Ezzour, AFP
Regime-loyal militia soldiers overlooking a town near Deir Ezzour, AFP


  • The Syrian Regime is being pushed back in Deir Ezzour by ISIS
  • Syrian Kurds have seized the moment and captured vast swaths of oil-rich land
  • ISIS' focus on pushing back the regime has helped the Kurds get ahead in the race for Syria's oil
  • This will massively aid the Kurds in their campaign for autonomy from Damascus 


By Ty Joplin

An Accidental Ally

ISIS is desperately trying to hold back the Syrian regime in its last real stronghold in Syria. But for every hour that ISIS is able to delay regime gains, the Kurds get more time to blitzkrieg Syria’s countryside to lay claim to its oil-rich fields.

ISIS counterattacks on Syrian Regime-held territory is basically freeing up the Kurds to take more land in the oil-rich Deir Ezzour Governorate.

Though these attacks have received little media attention, they are significant in that every day the regime must fend off ISIS, is a day that Kurdish forces gain in the ongoing race for Syrian oil.

The Deir Ezzour Governorate in eastern Syria was ISIS’ last stronghold in Syria, but now it is being divvied up between the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), backed by the United States, and the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), backed by Iran and Russia.

The region is critically important in deciding the future of Syria, since it contains about half of the entire country's oil reserves. At one point, the Syrian Regime and the SDF were looking to clash head-on with each other on the battlefield, but that fear has subsided now that regime forces are facing temporary losses thanks to a fierce ISIS pushback.

Syria’s Black Gold

Makeshift rig to get Syria’s oil, AFP

The SDF is trying to get as much of Syria’s oil as it can to use as bargaining chips in any future negotiations for Kurdish autonomy. Assad is trying to re-cement its hold on Syria since it has stamped out any regime-threatening opposition. The only faction that can truly jeopardize Assad’s mission is the Kurds in northern Syria.

ISIS is pushing as hard as it can against the Syrian regime. The M20 highway, which links Deir Ezzour Governorate to regime-held Western Syria, was used as the main road to push against the nascent terrorist group, who once held much of Syria and Iraq.



But ISIS has attacked the M20 highway, where it has temporarily cut off SAA troops, Shia militias, and Russian brigades in Deir Ezzour at the time of publication. One ISIS attack even reportedly killed over 120 regime fighters.

ISIS may be down for the count in the region and has completely given up its state-building project, but it is proving still to be a persistent and dangerous enemy.

SDF soldier in Deir Ezzour, AFP

The Kurdish Gambit

Though the ISIS counterattack is doomed to fail, it gives the SDF a head start. While regime troops were under siege from ISIS over the weekend (Sept. 29-30), the SDF seized the moment and captured the Jafra oil field, which is just a short drive away from regime-held positions.

The SDF has also taken the large Conoco gas plant, which is essentially across the street from regime soldiers who have been under intermittent mortar fire for the past few days.

The regime has been forced to shift its focus away from capturing the remaining oil fields in Deir Ezzour to protecting its rear from ISIS’ attacks. The Kurds then have only pockets of ISIS resistance to deal with on their march towards the Iraqi border and perhaps across the Euphrates River, where more oil reserves can be found.

If the SDF continue to make quickfire gains in the region, Assad will have to face the possibility that he will not be able to unify Syria back to its pre-war borders.

An independent Syrian Kurdistan is beginning to look more and more like a distinct possibility for the near future.

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