SDF controls huge amounts of territory outside of traditional Kurdish area
Many areas outside of traditional Kurd-controlled territory were seized by the SDF when they defeated ISIS with the support of the US. The US hopes that this territory will remain under control of the SDF rather than revert to control by the Assad regime.
However many local Arab tribesmen in these areas do not like SDF control and want control returned to local tribes.
Kurds kill protesters
The Kurds see the protests as helping Iran and Turkey and possibly undermining their victory against ISIS. So far, the main reaction of the Kurds has been to break up the protests killing some no doubt on the ground they are terrorists. SDF forces showed up in Deir el-Zour during a protest. They opened fire killing seven and sending the rest fleeing. This is likely to create more unrest but for the present as long as the Kurds can claim the protests are generated by Iran or ISIS the US is unlikely to complain very loudly.
The Arab tribesmen who are protesting demand better services, jobs, and a larger role in decision-making. The protests are limited to about a dozen villages for now, but they are a growing challenge to the SDF and the US. The demonstrations may serve as an excuse not to remove too many US troops from the area.
An anonymous SDF official said that the protesters were just a small percentage of Deir el-Zour residents but the protests were of benefit to the Assad regime, its Iranian backers and Turkey. He also claimed they were undermining the SDF military victory of ISIS.
Kurds hold talks with local officials
Local officials have held several rounds of talks with the SDF but so far have not made any progress. Although the SDF is not all Kurdish the Kurds are predominant in the group. The SDF was founded in 2015, armed by the US and was meant to fight to fight ISIS. Some are worried that the protests could end up in an uprising against SDF control.
Deir el Zour province is mostly Arab and is uneasy with Kurd rule
The province is suffering from a lack of services, rising crime, fuel shortages, and anger at the perceived growing Kurdish influence.
Some protesters believe that Kurdish fighters sell oil to Assad loyalists as there are severe fuel shortages in Assad-controlled areas aggravated by US sanctions on Syria and Iran. The residents also are angry at forced recruitment by the SDF of Arab residents.
Omar Abu Laila, an activist from the area based in Europe said: “People are fed up with the SDF. They are robbing the wealth of the people in the region.”
Bassam Barabandi a former Syrian diplomat also detailed complaints about the SDF: “The pace of rehabilitation, economic development and provision of essential services has not been sufficient to meet the basic needs of the population. As a result, people are feeling very hopeless about their current situation and the future. They do not see the regime as an acceptable alternative, and they are looking for the U.S. to act.”