Yemen – one year into a forgotten war

Over at Salon magazine, Ben Norton, the politics writer for that magazine, has an article entitled “Over half of Yemenis — 14 million people and growing — face hunger amid brutal U.S.-backed Saudi war and blockade”. March 26 was the first anniversary of the Saudi-led US-supported attack on Yemen, launched with the intention of restoring the ousted Yemeni President, Mansur Hadi, an ally of Riyadh regime and Washington, into power. Norton described how the Saudi invasion of Yemen has resulted in the destruction of homes, hospitals, markets, wedding parties, schools – and currently the humanitarian situation in Yemen is catastrophic, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). 14.4 million Yemenis face food insecurity, and 2.5 million have been internally displaced, because of this war.

Saudi Arabia’s air force has routinely targeted civilian infrastructure, air strikes that not only violate international law, but which have produced the breakdown of one of the poorest economies in the Middle East. Xinhuanet, the Chinese news agency, reported that the Saudi war has pushed Yemen’s economy to the brink, with famine a real possibility in the country. Saudi Arabia, since the start of its Yemeni invasion, has imposed a complete air, naval and land blockade on Yemen, preventing the regular importation of food and medicine into the country. In the capital city of Sanaa, thousands of Yemenis took to the streets to voice their anger against the Saudi invasion. Denouncing what they called the tyrannical aggression of the Saudi regime, the protestors demanded an end to the war, and the leader of the Ansar Allah Houthi rebel movement,  Abdulmalik al-Houthi, announced on national TV that his movement and supporters were ready for negotiations with Riyadh. The Houthi party and Yemeni rebels still control vast swathes of the country, and it is difficult to see how Saudi Arabia can claim any military success in a war that has seen civilians bear the brunt of the suffering.

In the south of the country, the group Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) controls oil rich areas, such as the province of Hadramaut and its port city of Mukalla. While the former president Mansur Hadi has been reestablished in the important city of Aden by Saudi and Yemeni forces, his grip remains tenuous, and his authority does not extend beyond the realms of the city. Several of his ministers have been assassinated by AQAP, and some by Islamic State militants, the latter having established a presence in the country due to the chaos of the war. Saudi Arabia is currently looking for a political solution to end the Yemen campaign. While there has been an announcement of a ceasefire, reputedly to take effect in April, similar ceasefires in the past have been declared and soon collapsed.

American drone strikes and selective sympathy

In late March 2016, the United States reported that its drones had struck an Al-Qaeda training camp at a former government military base in the city of Mukalla, southern Yemen. The US government claimed it had killed 50 militants, though the identities of the deceased remains unconfirmed. While the United States has reportedly been attacking AQAP in Yemen since 2002, this attack was the first time that the US Department of Defence announced officially that it has carried out this air strike. This particular strike is a pointed response to the territorial gains made by AQAP over the last year, as it takes advantage of the instability fomented by the Saudi aggression. Interestingly, there is another force that has been fighting AQAP – the Houthi Shia movement, regarded as apostates by the Sunni fundamentalist AQAP, and politically allied with the Iranian regime.

Earlier in March 2016, the Saudi air force carried out their own air strike – hitting a marketplace in northwest Yemen, killing over 100 people. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that such air attacks occur with depressing regularity in Yemen, but they do not attract the kind of international sympathy and support that victims of say, more high profile terrorist attacks receive in Brussels, Paris or London. Hussein stated that Saudi Arabia is guilty of war crimes, and crimes against humanity. However, Yemen’s plight, and the victims of this war, have been swept aside, forgotten amidst the non-stop saturation coverage of every aspect of the latest terrorist bombing to hit Europe, this one in Brussels. Of course the Brussels bombing was an outrageous act of terrorism. However, the carnage and ongoing suffering of the victims of Western wars, in this case in Yemen, are quickly forgotten as ‘collateral damage’, devoid of any humanity or empathic emotion.

Since the start of the Saudi invasion of Yemen in March last year, 6200 civilians have been killed by Saudi Arabia’s air force, and civilian infrastructure has been deliberately targeted. A report published in The Guardian newspaper by Kareem Shaheen, details how cities, such as Aden and Taiz, have been reduced to rubble, and that unemployment and poverty are now rife in the country. Interestingly, in 2016, Deng Adut gave the Australian Day speech, in his capacity as a role model for achievement. Who is he? A former child soldier from South Sudan, he has turned his life around, becoming a lawyer and refugee advocate, and doing his community proud. However, as he gets on with his life, child soldiers are a common sight now in Yemen, with thousands fighting and dying in horrific numbers. Lured by the multiple motivations of money, finding a purpose and obtaining group identity and cohesion, Yemen is currently a breeding ground for child soldiers.

The complicity of the West

Let us be clear – this Saudi war on Yemen would not be possible without the constant and crucial support of the United States and Britain. Owen Jones, political writer for The Guardian, stated it plainly in one of his columns in January this year:

Britain is arming and aiding a fundamentalist dictatorship that’s bombing and killing civilians. This is an incontestable fact. The Saudi tyranny – gay-hating women-oppressors who kicked off the year with a mass beheading – has been waging war in Yemen for 10 months.

British and American military advisers are helping the Saudi military forces select targets, provide training and logistical support, and work together with Saudi military personnel to conduct this Yemeni war. Owen Jones further explains that:

Bombing raids have shredded the country’s healthcare system: 130 medical facilities have been targeted, including those run by Médecins Sans Frontières –“a total disregard for the rules of war”, as MSF says itself. The risk of famine looms: the UN believes more than 14 million people are food insecure, half of them severely so, while nearly one in 10 have been driven from their homes.

The complicity of the West in fomenting this humanitarian catastrophe is quite clear. But rather than condemn this war, or do anything to prevent it, the United States and British governments are doing all in their power to provide rationales and twisted justifications for this ongoing slaughter. American Secretary of State John Kerry explained that his government stands alongside its Saudi friends. British Prime Minister David Cameron has escalated the sales of armaments to the Saudi regime since he took office in 2010. Cameron’s government has licensed 6.7 billion pounds of armaments sales to the Saudi rulers since 2010, and this trade shows no signs of slowing down. US and British-supplied cluster munitions are making their way into the hands of the Saudi military, and are being used in Yemen. Cluster bombs are deliberately designed to spray lethal molten copper projectiles over a large swathe of territory, intended to destroy enemy tanks – and these bombs are being used in densely populated civilian areas in Yemen.

Time to stop selling arms

The above sub-heading is the title of an article by Diane Abbott, the Labour Party’s shadow international development secretary. She asks why this armaments industry continues to operate in the face of international law and civilian bloodshed. Abbott states that the British government, and its American counterpart, view human rights and international laws as secondary issues, subordinate to the maximisation of corporate profits in the armaments industry. The lawless behaviour and international gangsterism of the US and the UK are fueling a humanitarian disaster in Yemen.

When the United States and United Kingdom denounce the violation of international law, but continue to flout that very same law in their own international conduct, then the world becomes a quagmire of banditry where the civilians suffer the most. If war crimes and transgressions of international law occur with obscene regularity by those Western powers who profess commitment to international justice, then the criminals go unpunished and are unaccountable. This international disorder is a dystopian system, one that urgently requires replacement by the rule of law, where human rights, human dignity and the develop of human potential are the ultimate measures of a government’s conduct. The answer to such a dystopian vision is human solidarity and collective resistance.

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