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YEMEN – A War of Opportunity or a Side Show? April 17, 2015

Posted by wmmbb in Uncategorized.

So what is going on with Yemen? It is puzzling, to say the least.

For example, who is the enemy: Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or the Houthis (Zaidis)? For the US it is AQAP  and for the Saudi Monarchy it is the Houthis. But the Aerial bombing campaign, supposedly conducted by the Saudi air force is reliant on US satellite and Awak information. According to reports, food storage sites have been targeted in a country facing a growing humanitarian crisis. Many Yemenis do not have access to clean drinking water, and the country imports 90% of its food. So much for the laws of war! (Do these laws to be in effect require a war to be declared?)So much for “Felix Arabia”, for those Yemenis who now fleeing to Somalia, and in some cases to Saudi Arabia.

The attack appears to be a war crime. But what does international law count for, since the invasion of Iraq? The attack has not been formally ratified by the UN Security Council, and Yemen has not attacked Saudi Arabia or the US, with the exception of the attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 sailors and which was attributed to Al Qaeda, whose origins can be traced to American support for the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan at the time of the Soviet invasion and perhaps as well to Egyptian underground, religious opposition to the past military dictatorship. The UN dialogue model, an ongoing process in Yemen, conducted by a designated Special Rapporteur seems to undetermined by violence from all quarters.

AQAP is a variation from Bin Laden’s organization with members drawn from Saudi as well as local Yemenis. The CIA was running night raids and drone attacks(murders) out of the Al Anan Airbase, targeting in particular AQAP. The Houtis added by former President Saleh, not only over Sana’a in their traditional stamping ground, but pressed on to Aden causing the CIA to flee from their digs 80km north. To be so incommoded is to invite retaliation.

Michael Hastings, a reporter for Rolling Stone,  before his death one year later, spoke to Russia Today referring to the drone campaign in Afghanistan and Yemen, and also giving the rationale for the program:

Interesting to note that there was a precedent for the US and UK bailing out of their embassies before current situation developed.

Before the drones and recent developments  there a long story involves the British control of the strategic port of Aden, and for much of that history its control from Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay), the expansion of the Aden Protectorate to control the coastline, not the mountainous tribal hinterland. There is an excellent time line created by Mark Corcoran at the ABC.

To the north, was the tribal society of Yemen whose capital was the ancient city of Sana’a, and whose monarchy was Shia with a lineage connecting to Ali and the Prophet’s daughter, Fatima. The Islam of Persia, while also Shea,differed significantly from that of Yemen. The diversity even among Shea has to be seen to be realized (see Branches).There is an excellent timeline of the Yemen history including regional relationships created by Mark Corcoran at the ABC.  It is noticeable while all other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council support Saudi Arabia and Egypt’s aggression, Oman, Yemen neighbour to the east, is not a party to the action, suggesting tribal relationship extend beyond arbitrary cartographic borders.

Since its creation as the Oil Kingdom in the 1930s, the northern neighbour, Saudi Arabia, has been involved in Yemeni affairs, and more recently by its support for the deposed President Hadi, who fled to Riyadh, after overstaying his time in office. It might be supposed that the Zaidis in the fastness of their mountains and forests successfully resisted the forceful incorporation into Sunni Kingdom. They were lucky to survive the equivalent of the Highland Clearances, although sheep farming might not have been an option, although  removal of the Houthis/Zaidis is now suggested.

As a major apparent protagonist in the invasion, the history of Saudi Arabia is relevant:

The former President of Yemen, Saleh, overturned during the Arab Spring, retained about half of the former national guard as his personal following. Now he is stranded since he has been denied refuge, unlike his successor Hadi.In previous times the Monarchy based in Sana’a, were Zaidis, if not Houthis. The previous centuries of colonial intervention has meant that unlike in Afghanistan, there were no established methods for the tribes to consent to the strongman, and even if there were, the population of Aden would be left out to the process. Aden was the centre of the Socialist Republic. The economy of Aden seems to have collapsed. In the 1960’s Gamel Nasser, acting in support of the northern Zaidis, attempted to take over in a costly war. Radicalism was connected with religious extremist,imported in part from Egypt, resulting in the formation of the branch of Al Qaeda. One outcome was the attack on the USS Cole in Aden harbour and the loss of 17 sailors lives. AQAP seems a hybrid organization, including disaffected Saudi Shia from the Eastern Oil Provinces. Saudi troops were used to suppress the Shia population of Bahrain in 2011. The Houthis draw support from the traditional north, while AQAP are based in and around Aden, combined with tribal based loyalties for contending presidents.

From 1990 Yemen notionally formed one country and one nation. It was an interesting marriage to say the least. Unification occurred in the same year as the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, and the sanctimonious declarations of the primary principle of national sovereignty, not least by Australia. The Wikipedia notes:

Aden became the capital of the new People’s Republic of South Yemen which, in 1970, was renamed the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. With the unification of northern and southern Yemen in 1990, Aden was no longer a national capital but remained the capital of Aden Governorate’ which covered an area similar to that of the Aden Colony.

The southern movement to restore an independent Aden seems to lost in the analysis. Speculation, but I suspect that is primarily, but not necessarily exclusively, an non-tribal, non-sectarian movement.

Yemen’s population is of the same order as that of Saudi Arabia, although perhaps about five million people smaller. This comparison does not include the expatriate population of the Saudi Kingdom. Yemen’s population has been subjected to impoverishment, including lack of food and clean water, and in addition the associated terrorist murders of drone attacks, and in the past weeks aerial bombing from a coalition of countries lead nominally by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, with the exception of neighbouring Oman. It may be assumed that the port economy of Aden has collapsed, which once was a coal resupply port.

The port lies about equidistant from the Suez Canal, Mumbai, and Zanzibar, which were all important British possessions. Aden had been an entrepôt and a way-station for seamen in the ancient world. There, supplies, particularly water, were replenished, so, in the mid-19th century, it became necessary to replenish coal and boiler water. Thus Aden acquired a coaling station at Steamer Point and Aden was to remain under British control until 1967.

There are real risks for the Saudi Kingdom in pursuing a militarist policy. Internally wealth is concentrated and unwritten by the Wahhabist religious orientation. The army, as potential and actual focus of nationalism and political power has been kept weak. Egypt, for example, is not judged a failed state, because the army has retained control of government, and much of the economy. The same might also be said of nuclear power, Pakistan. By contrast Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan, who either never developed national armies, or as in the case of Iraq, whose army was destroyed by invasion are seen dismissively as failed states. The object of a Saudi invasion, supported by the US, will be to create Yemen as a client state and that is neither easily or quickly done. It is not obvious who the allies will be other than the tribal and other supporters of deposed President Hadi, who at this time has no democratic legitimacy. Invasion, which lacks the sanction of approval by the UN Security Council, is a zero-sum game. Drones, bombing, invasion and control, together with the draconian measures to suppress AQAP are likely to add to grievances. It will drain resources, create a large standing army, and increase political and social stresses within Saudi Arabia, as in the Gulf. The Zaidis/Houthis will not readily submit and they will have the moral if not material support of Iran. Then there is the Sunni Regimento to the North, who conceivably might come to see the Monarchy as the usurpers of the Islamic Commonwealth.

The Saudi Kingdom allied with the Egyptian military dictatorship seemed to have stepped to a ground invasion, and then blinked.

“Vassal states”, such as Australia,  support American imperialist regardless. Seemingly, the Defence Minister is unaware not just of the latest impersonation of the leader of Islamic State, but like NZ troops are been sent to support the Shiite, Iran supported, Baghdad Government against Sunni IS. US policy seems to have evolved and digressed to drone murders and corporate Condottiere. As long as violence, death and destruction of the other can be seen in manchiean terms, goodies versus baddies strategy does not seem to matter. Dehumanized human beings are by definition according to the writ of the definer, are expendable. Such a world view might be alluded to, if not held, by reference to “war of opportunity” or “side-show”.

There is much more information to hand, but the first task is to be grounded. Here is a list of links, not referenced above:


The war of opportunity may exist in the minds of the external powers, in particular the United States, rather than the Saudis. The escalation of violence has followed from drone attacks, to aerial bombing, and now a ground invasion.

AQAP was the target of the prior US drone attacks, which parallel a similar method used in Afghanistan and Somalia. This method of warfare represents “the Obama Doctrine”. The bombing campaign was necessary to degrade the opponents of the President Hadi. American policy took no account of the politics or dire social and economic conditions within Yemen. In these circumstances, failing a full scale military invasion, war by remote control, first by drones then the bombing campaign, is simply going to worsen the situation and give rise to desperation and extremism.

From Foreign Policy – more of the “he said, she said story” (Lara Jakes, Paul McLeary):

But Abadi, a Shiite, downplayed Iran’s support to the Houthis. “Yemen was not an Iranian proxy at all,” Abadi said.

On that point, the Saudi ambassador agreed with the Iraqi prime minister. Jubeir resisted calling the Sunni-led military operations part of a proxy war, saying instead that Saudi Arabia is merely responding to a request for help from Hadi’s government. “I would describe them as a war of necessity,” Jubeir said.

But he didn’t back down from Riyadh’s insistence that Iran has long been a supporter of the Houthi rebels, including by sending weapons, troops, and equipment to Yemen. “There is no reason for Iran to be in Yemen,” Jubeir said. “We know that Iran has supplied Houthis weapons in the past.”“There is no reason for Iran to be in Yemen,” Jubeir said. “We know that Iran has supplied Houthis weapons in the past.”

Told of Abadi’s comments Wednesday, White House National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey said Obama “did not criticize” the Saudi and Gulf Cooperation Council mission in Yemen during his discussion with the Iraqi premier.

Baskey said administration officials “firmly support” the military campaign to defend Saudi Arabia’s southern border, which has been attacked in some places by Houthi rebels, and to return the “legitimate Yemeni government” to power.

Obama and Biden “conveyed the view, shared widely both in the region and beyond and reflected in the newly adopted UNSCR, that this not escalate into a broader conflict and that ultimately Yemen’s conflict can only be settled through a political negotiation involving all parties,” Baskey said.

He was referring to a United Nations Security Council resolution, approved Tuesday, that bans the sale of arms to Houthis in Yemen.

Abadi said the battle in Yemen could create an opening for the Islamic State, which feeds on Sunni tensions with Shiites, whom they consider apostates. The Islamic State is also competing with al Qaeda, which on Wednesday claimed responsibility for killing nearly 60 Houthis in a suicide bombing in Yemen’s southern Abyan province, according to SITE Intelligence, which monitors jihadi online messages.

The bombing was carried out by al Qaeda’s branch in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, which U.S. officials believe poses the terror network’s highest threat against the United States. For years, the United States carried out deadly drone strikes against AQAP militants in Yemen, and likely will continue to do so even though American military forces and diplomats have been evacuated from the country following the February closing of the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa.

Iraq depends on the United States and Iran for help to defeat the Islamic State, which is also known by its Arabic name, Daesh. That puts Abadi in what he acknowledged is an uncomfortable position as the Yemen unrest continues.

“By all honesty, because the U.S. is our ally in this war against Daesh, we felt very uneasy if the U.S. was supporting this war of Yemen,” Abadi said.

“Because, can you work both sides? Here we are with Iraq against Daesh; there against Yemen. And what it does to Daesh; what it does to the other conflict?”



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