Yemen: Victim of the Saudi, British and American Love Affair

Schools and hospitals closed, children on the brink of malnutrition and millions forced to flee their homes — a civilisation reduced to destitution, almost. But being almost destitute is a little shy of political compassion, as world leaders continue to turn a blind eye to a Yemen torn apart not only by sectarian violence, but by Saudi, British, and American involvement. But why?

Since the beginning of March, Yemen has been caught in a power struggle between the Houthis, a Shia tribal group, and Sunni President, Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Having long been plagued by religious clashes — six over the last eleven years — violence is old news, the bloodshed isn’t, and Saudi Arabia, UK and U.S all have blood on their hands.

Lead by the head of Zaidi sect, Hussein Badreddinn Al-Houthi, the Shia insurgency began in 2004 when an uprising was launched against the Government, Ali Abdullah Saleh President at the time. Bubbling tensions continued through to the Arab Spring in 2011. Much like surrounding Arab & North African countries, unemployment and poor economic conditions fuelled the uprising, but for Yemen the problems were rooted deeper. Discontentment grew, fuelling clashes, as Saleh proposed modifications to the constitution to allow his son to inherit presidency. In the hope of bringing calm to the situation and in line with a gulf-brokered deal forming a unity government with the opposition, Saleh transferred power to Vice President Hadi in late 2011, but to no avail.

New Name, Same Game

The appointment of President Hadi brought little calm, instead taking a turn for the worse. Shia insurgency intensified for the following years. Most significantly, in September 2014, Houthis swiftly took control of the capital Sana’a, confining Hadi in his home. In October, the declaration of a “Revolutionary Committee”, headed by Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi as the interim authority, fuelled a mass government resignation, including Hadi’s, in January of this year. But it wasn’t long before Hadi rescinded his resignation on February 21 after fleeing to Aden. Within a month Hadi declared Aden as Yemen’s temporary capital.

Almost immediately, Houthis rebels rejected the Gulf Co-operation Council and moved southwards towards Aden, with assistance from forces loyal to former president, Saleh, who is supposedly attempting to keep Hadi out of power after being forced out of presidency. As battle continued between the rebels and Government forces, Hadi was forced to seek refuge in Saudi Arabia — a move that proved to be detrimental.

Saudi, U.S and British Love Affair

As the capture of Aden by rebels became inevitable, Saudi Arabia almost immediately announced Operation AL-Hazm Storm in late March to counter Shia rebel insurgency that hindered any possible ending to violence, according to Saudi. Leading a military coalition with UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, Egypt and Pakistan, they began a force build up on Yemen’s border. Airstrikes shortly followed. With Somalia making airspace, military bases and territorial waters available for the coalition and Senegal having promised troops, Saudi’s offensive was well prepared. But it wasn’t enough. Saudi needed to bring in the big guns — Cameron’s Britain and Obama’s U.S.

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Both the U.S and UK provide essential intelligence, logistic and intelligence assistance (MoD military & civilian personnel & BAC system), with staff stationed in Saudi Arabia to support the airstrikes. Both continue to supply Saudi Air Force with fighter jets and exported bombs. The military coalition provided the platform; US & UK catapulted Saudi into Yemen, but for what benefit?

Saudi Arabia is Britain’s biggest weapons export customer, and the U.S and Saudi share the same objective — eradicate rebels and AQAP (Al-Qaeda of the Arab peninsula) and ISIL. In fact, the U.S has been carrying out airstrikes in Yemen sine 2009. But the violence and an incredibly weak government has opened up space for extremists groups to manifest themselves. Al-Qaeda occupy more space than they ever have. But this is where the confusion begins. Saudi, UK, US all oppose Sunni extremists such as ISIL, Al-Qaeda and the Shia Houthi rebels. AQAP/ISIL/Jihadists who also oppose Shia Houthis, have now joined forces to defeat their common enemy, Shia Houthi rebels. But Saudi has allied with anti-Houthi groups (who happen to be affiliated with AQAP and co), aiding them whilst also opposing them. Saudis new loyalties can be attributed to their biggest foe entering the playing field — Iran.

Militia backed by Shia majority Iran has been leading the fightback against Sunni IS forces, but has been consistently accused by Saudi of supporting Houthi rebels financially and militarily, most recently since Saudi seized an Iranian boat in the Arabian Sea with weapons headed ‘for rebels’ (Sept 2015), an accusation denied by Iran. This, an obvious concern for Saudi’s objective of regional status quo of Sunni Wahabbism.

Human Cost of Politics

Whether Saudis wanting to reinstate a Sunni status quo, America wanting to eradicate AQAP, or the UK reaping the benefits of weapons export, all three fail to acknowledge the cost of their objectives — lives lost.

Airstrikes have targeted heavily populated areas, such as hospitals, schools, and factories; in most cases no military targets were detected nearby (Amnesty). For airstrikes aimed at fighting rebel insurgency, civilians have paid the consequences. Since the airstrikes began in March, more than 2000 civilians have been killed, including over 400 children.

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The coalition has blocked the seaport, subsequently controlling movement of what comes in and out of Yemen, this includes medical supply, food, water and basic supplies. Yemen relies on imports for 70% of its fuel requirements and 100% of its medical needs but airstrikes have demolished crucial infrastructures such as bridges and airports. With 80% of the population relying on humanitarian assistance, the blockade and destruction has halted movement of essential humanitarian supplies, forcing more than 80% of their 25million population to the brink of famine (UN Food Programme). Currently 1.8 million children are at the risk of becoming malnourished (UNICEF), resulting in 1.4 million fleeing their homes. Fleeing has become a question of survival, not a question of choice.

Children and the most vulnerable bear the brunt of the bloodshed; 70% of schools have closed since March, and hospitals in the 18 of the 22 governorates have been severely affected from the lack of fuel and increased fighting. Is the threat of AQAP justification for innocent civilian deaths? Have we reduced the value of a human life to so little that we’re willing to be bystanders as a country is stripped of its civilisation?

Intentions of reducing extremism strongholds may be legal, but the actions taken are anything but. Airstrikes have defied international laws of war by targeting civilians and failing to distinguish between civilians and combatants. Human Rights Watch has said there is evidence of globally banned, U.S made cluster bombs, used in attacks with civilian casualties i.e. war crimes. The US has been accused of turning a blind eye to war crimes, but US continues to use threat of AQAP as justification (since 2009 to be precise). Coincidentally, the UK Government has declined to specify to Parliament what arms are being provided to parties involved in the conflict — when there’s no transparency there’s a genuine cause for concern.

Dear Obama and Cameron, when you’re supplying bombs, you have blood on your hands. When you’re supplying fighter jets, you have blood on your hands. When you’re supplying key intelligence, you have blood on your hands. When you’re making profit from arms exports, you have blood on your hands. You have the blood of more than 2000 innocent civilians on your hands. You have the blood of 400 children and their stolen futures on your hands.

Yemen has become the illegitimate by-product of the love affair between Saudi Arabia, UK and U.S. that no one wants to take responsibility for — leaving Yemen to fend for itself until it eventually has to join the queue with Syria, Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan, as the irreversibly damaged plagued by trust issues.

edit: Pakistan later rebuffed commitment to Saudi led coalition after unanimous vote.