A Dier Ezzor Military Council (DEMC) leader announced his militia was in a guerrilla war against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Ethnic tensions between Washington’s Arab and Kurdish partners in Eastern Syria boiled over last week, with analysts warning fighting could escalate. So far, at least 100 people have been killed in the fighting taking place near American soldiers.
An unnamed leader in the military council told Al-Jazeera, “The conflict began with the dominance of Kurdish forces over the region during the war against ISIL. We were promised that the tribesmen, represented by the [Deir Ezzor] Military Council, would eventually regain control, but that never happened.” He added, “That’s why a guerrilla war against the SDF eventually began.”
Some journalists have made similar observations. Omar Abu Layla, of Deir Ezzor 24, explained, “This is an unprecedented escalation between SDF and Deir el-Zour residents. This is an indication of the bad policy implemented by the SDF and the wrong calculations by the Americans.” Syrian journalist Ibrahim Muhammad made a similar observation last week, noting most people in Deir Ezzor “categorically refuse to be ruled by the Kurds.”
The tensions ignited into fighting last week when the SDF arrested a leader in the DEMC, Abu Khawla. Abu Hassan al-Dairi, an activist from Deir Ezzor, explained, “The arrest of Abu Khawla is not the reason behind the uprising. That was merely a spark for Arab tribesmen to act.”
Over the past week, around 100 people have been killed during the fighting. Some of the battles occurred on the al-Omar oil fields, where some of the 900 US soldiers occupying eastern Syria are based. On Wednesday, the SDF announced an end to its operations against the DEMC. However, Al-Jazeera reports the fighting has expanded well outside Dier Ezzor, where the DEMC is based.
Joshua Landis, director of the Center of Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, predicts the fighting will escalate and “the costs will only go up.” He added that he believes this could end the US occupation of eastern Syria. “The US will be unable to square the national ambitions of both groups. It may be able to mediate for a while, … but ultimately, it will withdraw from the region,” Landis explained.