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Boardman writes: "Arab aggression, in the form of a blitzkrieg unleashed by Saudi Arabia with the support of the United States among others, currently pits a coalition of five Sunni Arab police state monarchies in the Gulf Cooperation Council against the poorest country in the Middle East."

The Mazraq refugee camp in Yemen. (photo: Ed Ou/Getty)
The Mazraq refugee camp in Yemen. (photo: Ed Ou/Getty)

Yemen Matters - As a Target, as a Market, as a Culture

By William Boardman, Reader Supported News

16 April 15


US supports Saudis and others in war of aggression on Yemen

rab aggression, in the form of a blitzkrieg unleashed by Saudi Arabia with the support of the United States among others, currently pits a coalition of five Sunni Arab police state monarchies in the Gulf Cooperation Council against the poorest country in the Middle East, Council non-member Yemen, where the Shia Houthi insurgency has taken control of perhaps one third of the country. 

Yemen, insofar as there is a state entity that can be called Yemen, has attacked no other country and has little capability of doing so. For years, over at least two presidential administrations, Yemen has persisted as a disintegrating quasi-democratic kleptocracy, where years of systematic Saudi state bribery has reinforced chronic instability by supporting tribal independence and political disintegration. Yemen is roughly the size of Morocco, Germany, or California. It is also the same size as Iraq, with about three million fewer people and many more political and cultural fault lines.

So what did Yemen do to provoke weeks of US-supported terror-bombing carried out primarily by Saudi pilots flying US jets armed with US munitions? Yemen has a population of about 25 million people who are overwhelmingly dependent on food imports for survival. What terrible crime has Yemen committed to be subjected also to an international naval blockade that will cause widespread malnutrition, hunger, and in time starvation? 

The proximate cause, it would seem, is the interruption of what US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power called the “peaceful, inclusive, and consensus-driven political transition under the leadership of the legitimate President of Yemen, Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi.” One problem with this formulation is that Hadi’s “legitimacy” derives from his being installed as president by an international diplomatic coup, followed by his election in a race in which he was the sole candidate. Essentially, there is no legitimate government of Yemen and has not been for decades at least. The present war of aggression by outside powers intervening in a multifaceted civil war relies for its justification on fiction.  

The US, the Saudis, and the rest of the aggressors are committing daily war crimes with their bombing and their blockade in an undeclared war that increasingly kills civilians. Each civilian death is a crime against humanity.

Responding to Arab aggression, UN embargoes those under attack

In the United Nations, where peace and universal human rights are supposed to matter at least a little bit, the Security Council has imposed an arms embargo on the Houthis. The vote on April 14 was 14-0, with Russia abstaining. Among the aggressor nations voting in support of their own actions were the US, UK, France, and Jordan. Those with no obvious conflict of interest voting for the embargo included China and that American-designated threat to world peace, Venezuela. 

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in part in the preamble:

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law … 

This addresses the fundamental irony of Yemeni reality, that a long mistreated minority, the Houthis, are rebelling against the tyranny and oppression of the Yemen government, only to be opposed by a coalition of even more tyrannous and oppressive states, as well as Al Qaeda and ISIS, not to mention imperial powers who have colonized Yemen one way and another over the past 200 or so years. 

The Security Council ignored all this. Its vote took place with apparent obliviousness even to the UN report a week earlier warning that the Saudi war was driving Yemen toward a humanitarian catastrophe. Implicitly, the situation on April 7 was somehow not yet a humanitarian catastrophe, even though the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported: that civilians in need could not be reached with aid; that more than 100,000 Yemenis had been displaced since March 26 when the bombing started; that of the 560 reported killed, more than a third were civilians. The report concluded:

This year, humanitarian partners estimate that about 15.9 million people – 61 per cent of the population – will require humanitarian assistance, a number that is expected to increase if violence continues to escalate.

Given the number and diversity of combatants in and around Yemen, there is almost no chance that violence will abate any time soon. Russian calls for a ceasefire and talks are widely ignored. An Iranian proposal for peace talks was angrily and preposterously rejected by the Saudis as they continued their unopposed daily bombing of Yemen, while at the same time accusing Iran of meddling in Yemen. “Iran is not in charge of Yemen,” said Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal, rather contradicting the Saudi justification for bombing Yemen because of too much Iranian influence.                

Whatever Iran’s role in Yemeni affairs, and no doubt it’s real if not extensive, it can’t compare to the Saudi interference in a neighboring, supposedly sovereign state. During recent decades, the Saudis have fought the Yemenis over northern Yemeni territory, have bribed and intimidated Yemenis leaders, and played divide and control with Yemeni tribes. 

Saudis happy to bomb the helpless, reluctant to invade the combative

Saudi bombing of Yemen has met no significant resistance even though theYemen air force is said to have about 195 attack aircraft, mostly aging Soviet MIGs and some US F-5s. Neither the Yemen air force nor any ground-to-air defenses appear to have had any deterrent effect on the Saudi ability to hit any targets it chooses, which so far include a number of schools, hospitals, refugee camps, a dairy factory and other civilian facilities. The assault is reminiscent of the Spanish Civil War when the fascist bombing of defenseless Guernica created the atrocity vividly re-created in “Guernica,” the painting by Picasso. The US-backed Saudis are on their way to creating a Muslim Guernica.

Yemeni helplessness is no surprise to the Saudis and their allies in the bombing, any more than Guernica’s defenselessness was a surprise to Francisco Franco and his Nazi allies in 1937. More than three years ago, the Yemen air force was known to be “barely functional,” suffering from low morale, inadequate training, and equipment shortages that limited planes to flying only in daylight. Analysts doubted the ability of the Yemen air force to defend its own air space. The Saudis had little trouble bombing Houthi targets in Yemen in 2009. During that same time (2004-2012), the Yemeni air force was also bombing defenseless Houthi targets.

The fiction of a functional Yemen air force had at least one useful application: giving the US deniability for its criminal drone strikes in Yemen. The Yemen government willingly took credit for strikes it had no ability to carry out, much to the satisfaction of Americans seeking deniability, as confirmed in a 2010 cable released by Wikileaks

“We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,” [Yemen President] Saleh said, prompting Deputy Prime Minister Alimi to joke that he had just “lied” by telling Parliament that the bombs in Arhab, Abyan, and Shebwa were American-made but deployed by the ROYG [Republic of Yemen Government].

The American drone campaign in Yemen is now widely known as one of the most intensive of US drone programs. Like the US drone strikes in Pakistan, the Yemen strikes have also killed a number of civilians. Drone-killings of civilians have not become as controversial in Yemen, where protest is diffused by government connivance in the killings and the number of opposing sides in the country’s civil war. The charade of who-did-the-airstrike continued on April 14, when Al Qaeda announced on Twitter the killing of a leader in a “crusader airstrike,” while US and Yemen government officials refused to say if it was a drone strike.  

Who is my enemy when the enemy of my enemy is my enemy’s enemy’s enemy?

In May 2014, the Yemen army was fighting on two fronts in Yemen: against the Houthis in the northwest and against Al Qaeda in the southeast. Now the army itself is divided and the number of forces opposing each other has multiplied to the point where speaking of “fronts” is almost nonsensical. 

The absurdity of the fighting in Yemen is encapsulated in the presumed drone killing of the Al Qaeda leader at the behest of US and Yemen government interests, even though Al Qaeda is a fierce enemy of the Houthi rebels, who are being bombed by the Saudis, who are another target of Al Qaeda, even though Al Qaeda grew out of private Saudi money and influence, but now Al Qaeda is being targeted by the Islamic State moving into Yemen, the Islamic State having emerged out of the chaos and sectarianism inflicted on Iraq by the US invasion of 2003, and that was the house that George built. As Al-Monitor reports, Iraq is divided in its response to Saudi aggression:

Operation Decisive Storm has also divided Iraq's religious institutions. The Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars announced its backing of the campaign in a statement issued March 29, referring to it as the “Arab effort aimed at supporting the Yemeni people and confronting the Iranian tide.” On the other hand, the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, leader of the Sadrist movement, categorized the operation in a March 27 interview as “interference in the affairs of the Yemeni people.”

In Kuwait, one of the aggressor countries, the daily paper Al-Ray viewed its undeclared war this way: Kuwaiti daily Al-Ray: “The Gulf has been forced to go into war despite its heavy price and painful results. If it had not been for the US administration’s policy in the region, the Gulf would not have faced the hard choice.” 

On April 15, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, visiting Washington, sharply criticized the American-backed Saudi bombing campaign in its 22nd day, saying: “There is no logic to the operation at all in the first place…. Mainly, the problem of Yemen is within Yemen.” Then the prime minister raised a much more sinister implication of the Saudi aggression:

The dangerous thing is we don’t know what the Saudis want to do after this. Is Iraq within their radar? That’s very, very dangerous. The idea that you intervene in another state unprovoked just for regional ambition is wrong. Saddam has done it before. See what it has done to the country.

Whatever else may be going on in Yemen, the 25 million Yemeni people are not a coherent body, and pretty much everyone involved is interfering with their affairs. Presently, there are five major factions fighting within Yemen, as well as an unknown number of smaller factions and independent militias. There seem to be no reliable reports of the numbers of these fighting forces. Of these factions, it appears none is strong enough to govern the whole country, leaving Yemen to be governed by a shifting assortment of forces:

THE HADI FORCES, or THE YEMEN GOVERNMENT, such as it is, is headed in name at least by President Abed Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who has spent this year being held in house arrest in his capital, Sana’a, then fleeing to Aden, where he claimed he was still president, and now fleeing to Saudi Arabia with the same claim. His government is fragmented and its area of control probably changes, probably shrinking, every day. But an estimated half the Yemen military remains under government control and makes up most of the Hadi forces in Aden and southwest Yemen. 

THE HOUTHIS have populated northwest Yemen for generations, fighting off most of those who would control them. Some 8 million Houthis (about a third of Yemen’s population) provide the base for Houthi military strength, which has been growing during the past year. In September 2014, Houthis took control of Yemen’s capital and in January 2015 forced President Hadi to resign and held him in house arrest. During February and March, the Houthis took control of more of the south, putting Aden under threat, with heavy urban combat reported in mid-April. Houthis are Zaidi Muslims whose cohort ruled North Yemen (the Kingdom of Yemen) off and on from the 17th century until 1962.

THE SALEH FORCES mainly comprise the Yemen military no longer loyal to the Hadi government.  In 2012, in the midst of an “Arab spring” uprising, an international diplomatic coup headed by the Gulf Cooperation Council intervened in Yemen to install then-vice president Hadi in place of Yemen’s 33-year president Ali Abdullah Saleh, in a peaceful transition of power that included immunity from prosecution for Saleh. Planning to run for president again in 2015, Saleh allied himself with Houthi dissidents, among others. With roughly half the military on his side, Saleh has contributed to Houthi success. Like the Houthis, Saleh is a Zaidi Muslim, but not a member of the historic ruling faction. 

AL QAEDA, or Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is perhaps the second strongest force in Yemen, after the Houthi/Saleh alliance. This Al Qaeda is made up of Yemeni and Saudi factions, as well as foreign recruits, and controls most of the eastern part of Yemen, mostly low-population desert with several hundred miles of largely undefined border with Saudi Arabia. With an effectively autonomous region for now, Al Qaeda opposes both the Houthis and the Hadi forces, but faces a new challenge from the Islamic State. On April 2, Al Qaeda forces captured a prison in the eastern port city of Mukalla, freeing some 300 prisoners, many of whom are Al Qaeda fighters.  

 THE ISLAMIC STATE (ISIS/ISIL) established a presence in southern Yemen probably during 2014, with declared enmity toward everyone else, especially Al Qaeda, although American intelligence officials have floated the idea that ISIS might join forces with Al Qaeda in an effort to hit the US. On March 20, 2015, ISIS sent suicide bombers into Sana’a to attack Houthis at prayer in two mosques, killing 142 and wounding 345. ISIS also opposes US-supported Saudi attacks, as one supporter wrote:     

We will not allow America to interfere in the Arab world by using an Arab proxy. Arabs will only succeed when they leave the control of the Americans and move outside their circle of influence and control…. 

The ongoing war in the area is mostly an internal one, one that is fought between people who follow the rules and justice of Allah in its most basic form, and between the traitorous and corrupted ruler…. The revenge is not only against the evil Shiites, and not only against the tyrants, but against those who provide them with the weapons and the missiles they use to draw our blood.

US is OK with terrorizing civilians, not evacuating them

Four days before the Saudi bombing began, the US evacuated about 100 special forces troops from their Yemen base (the US evacuated embassy personnel in late September). The British by then had already evacuated their own special forces. Saudi bombing, naval bombardment in and around Aden, as well as ground fighting involving, at a minimum, the Houthis, Saleh forces, Sadi forces, Al Qaeda, and assorted independent militia, quickly created a crisis for more than 16,000 foreign nationals trying to flee the fighting, including thousands of Yemeni-Americans – a crisis about which the US felt compelled to do nothing, not even for its own citizens. 

India evacuated 4,640 Indian nationals and 960 others by ship and by plane. Pakistan also evacuated Pakistanis, Indians, and others. Pakistan has considered a Saudi request to join the attack on Yemen, but has rejected it.  

China used its navy to evacuate more than 900 people of many nations from Yemen, mostly from Aden, where they sent troops ashore to secure the rescue. 

The Russian navy evacuated 308 people from Yemen, including 18 Americans. Another 300 people were evacuated on Russian planes. Even Somalia rescued its citizens and others from Yemen, as did Djibouti. The two countries have given refuge to at least 1,260 people, according to the UN Refugee Agency, which expects another 130,000 people from Yemen to come to Somalia and Djibouti in the next six months.     

Oman, the only member of the Gulf Cooperation Council not to cooperate in the attack on Yemen, has also taken in civilians fleeing the fighting. Oman is the only country that shares a border with both Saudi Arabia to the north and Yemen to the west. Despite its past history as a mediator between Iran and Arab states, Oman’s offer to mediate talks between Yemen and its attackers has been ignored so far. 

For Yemeni-Americans, their country abandoned them. Roughly 4,000 of them got no help from their government. Some got out on their own. Three civil rights groups in the US have established “Stuck in Yemen,” a website that asks, “Are you a Yemeni-American stuck in Yemen?” and collects information to help. The three civil rights groups – the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), and Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) – have also sued the State Department to force the US to rescue its citizens.

Officially, the US doesn’t explain or defend its decision to leave American citizens of Yemeni descent hanging in harm’s way, twisting slowly in the wind. Asked by reporters why the US isn’t evacuating Americans from Yemen the way it has evacuated Americans from so many other places over the years, State Department spokesperson Marie Harf responds coldly to a reporter asking, “There are no plans to evacuate Americans from Yemen?”:

MARIE HARF: “That is true…. It’s not that we can’t. There’s always a decision. Different factors are weighed, whether it’s the security situation, whether it’s how we would be able to do this.

In other words, according to Marie Harf, the US could evacuate its citizens from Yemen if it wanted to – it just doesn’t want to. And why not? Because based on a politically motivated bigotry, the US treats Yemeni-Americans as second class citizens. 

American policy kills people – now it’s become Yemeni-cidal   

One view of the past half-century of American and western world predation is that it’s all deliberate, as Gulam Asgar Mitha wrote recently in Oriental Review:

Since the Western powers were kicked out of Indo-China, they along with Israel have managed to create wars, civil wars and wars of terrorism in Muslim countries over the past four decades – in Algeria, Egypt, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Mali, Libya, Yemen and Iran. These wars have killed at least 15 million Muslims in those four decades.

In sharp contrast, Southeast Asia has seen peace and economic prosperity. If Muslims desire peace and economic prosperity, they’ll have to adopt the SE Asian model. In a civil war, it will be Muslims eating the flesh and drinking the blood of each other. Some sense should prevail among Muslims by not falling into the western trap. Will it? Time will tell if the western powers will be able to impose their civil war agenda in the Middle East or will Muslims get their sanity to defeat the western agenda and opt for peace?

In Dissident Voice, Peter Konig, a former World Bank economist, writes in a similar vein:

The recent brutal attack on Yemen is US-supported and led by Saudi Wahhabis, an aggressive fundamentalist off-shoot of Sunni Islam. Fighting a proxy war against the Shia Muslims in Iran and the Yemeni Houthis, a secular off-spring of Shia Islam, as well as Syria with its ruling Ba’ath party (a socialist faction of Sunnis) – is a win-win, serving the big trans-Atlantic master, as well as Riyadh’s key objectives – regime change in Syria and annihilating Iran.

Perhaps inadvertently reinforcing the Iran-obsessions distorting US policy are comments of Republican congressman Ed Royce of California, who is chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Now cheerleading aggressive war, Royce wrote in February, getting the basic fact of who controls Yemen absolutely wrong:

This takeover of Yemen by the Iranian-supported Houthi militia is a very dangerous blow to our national security. Iran is consolidating its grip on the region, our embassy is on lockdown, and al-Qaeda has more room to operate. The Administration must come to grips with the increasingly destructive role Iran is playing in the region. 

One thing Iran hasn’t done is to arm all sides in the Middle East. The US and its allies have done that, through commerce and through arming countries who can’t hang onto their weapons. Yemen, for example. In February, the Guardian reported that the Pentagon had lost track of $400 million worth of weapons in Yemen, weapons that went to the Houthis or Al Qaeda or whoever happened to pick them up

Of course it’s necessary to have large, coordinated losses like this if you want the arms business to boom. And the arms business is definitely booming, not just with Saudi Arabia, with current arms orders of $46 billion. It’s salesmanship like that that not only keeps wars going, especially in the Middle East, but also boosts President Obama’s presidency to the most successful arms dealing administration in history, even after adjusting for inflation. As William Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, has written:

… the volume of major deals concluded by the Obama administration in its first five years exceeds the amount approved by the Bush administration in its full eight years in office by nearly $30 billion. That also means that the Obama administration has approved more arms sales than any U.S. administration since World War II.”

No wonder the US, from a humane perspective, continues to cover itself with blood and stupidity.

William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner
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