Under Saudi blockade, Yemen faces severe humanitarian crisis

The New York Times reports: Pressure is mounting on the Saudi-led military coalition that seeks to stanch a rebellion in Yemen, as aid officials prepare to add Yemen to the ranks of the world’s most severe humanitarian crises and human rights groups point to what may be war crimes.

United Nations officials are expected to declare Yemen a so-called Level 3 — or most severe — humanitarian crisis, as the de facto military blockade on commercial ships restricts the supply of food and fuel into the Arab world’s poorest country, diplomats said Tuesday.

That is sure to complicate what is already a delicate diplomatic balance for allies of Saudi Arabia, including the United States, which are reluctant to even call it a blockade. The preferred term, as one United Nations Security Council diplomat put it, is a “controlled maritime area.”

Whatever it is called, its effects on civilians have been dire. [Continue reading…]

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Yemeni heritage, Saudi vandalism

Lamya Khalidi writes: For more than 10 years, I was one of a number of American and Yemeni archaeologists surveying and excavating sites dating to the fabled South Arabian kingdoms and beyond, to prehistoric times. We were members of the Dhamar Survey Project, started by the University of Chicago and named for a historic town in highland Yemen.

The team spent decades exploring the magnificent megalithic monuments and walled towns of a civilization that developed terraced agriculture as early as the third millennium B.C., an ancient tradition that has stunningly etched the entire surface area of the region’s steep mountains like a topographical map. The project collected thousands of artifacts from more than 400 sites, including tools, pottery, statuary and inscriptions in ancient South Arabian languages.

We ensured that all of these artifacts, evidence of ancient cultures that traded at great distances during the Neolithic period and eventually built roads to link the highland towns to major incense trade routes, were deposited in the Dhamar Regional Museum. There, they were restored and studied by foreign teams and Yemeni archaeologists, and put on display.

This museum has just been obliterated from the air. In a matter of minutes, the irreplaceable work of ancient artisans, craftsmen and scribes — not to mention the efforts of Yemeni and foreign researchers who have dedicated years of their lives to studying and preserving this legacy — were pulverized. The museum and its 12,500 artifacts were turned to rubble by Saudi bombs. [Continue reading…]

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Saudis’ war effort struggles on three fronts

Dr. Madawi Al-Rasheed writes: Saudi Arabia’s aggressive, interventionist foreign policy has so far led it to wage two external wars in addition to an ongoing battle on the domestic front. The government does not appear to be fighting the three campaigns with the same degree of commitment and dedication, but more important, none of its battles is yet to result in victory.

Riyadh’s war against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq — being fought through a commitment to the US-led international coalition challenging the group destabilizing the Levant — has spilled over into the heartland of the kingdom’s oil-rich Eastern Province, prompting the necessity of fighting IS terrorism within its own borders as well as in the Levant. Recent attacks in Saudi Arabia have dismissed any doubt about the limits of IS’ reach. Meanwhile, to the south, the kingdom has been launching airstrikes against the Houthis in Yemen under an umbrella of 10 reluctant, mainly Arab states.

King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud has delegated the management of these multiple wars to two key princes. His son Mohammed, deputy crown prince and minister of defense, is in charge of the Yemeni war, and it seems he has also been asked to improve Saudi foreign relations. He recently visited Russia with the goal, according to Saudi sources, of bolstering relations. The multiple tasks handed the prince seem to blur the boundaries between his role in the war on Yemen and that as foreign envoy. This is not unusual in the kingdom, as previous princes in key positions also combined several roles into one, but this multitasking cannot mask the stalemate of the Yemeni war. After several months and one cease-fire, fighting continues unabated, with neither party able to claim victory. [Continue reading…]

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CIA didn’t know strike would hit al-Qaeda leader

The Washington Post reports: The CIA did not know in advance that al-Qaeda’s leader in Yemen was among the suspected militants targeted in a lethal drone strike last week, according to U.S. officials who said that the operation went forward under counter­terrorism guidelines that were eased by the Obama administration after the collapse of the U.S.-backed government in Yemen this year.

The officials said that Nasir ­al-Wuhayshi, who also served as ­al-Qaeda’s overall second-in-command, was killed in a “signature strike,” in which the CIA is permitted to fire based on patterns of suspected militant activity even if the agency does not know the identities of those who could be killed.

The disclosure indicates that the CIA continues to employ a controversial targeting method that the administration had signaled in 2013 that it intended to phase out, particularly in Yemen, which U.S. officials have said is subject to more stringent rules on the use of lethal force than in Pakistan. [Continue reading…]

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Obama’s humble approach to drone warfare

Following the death of Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula who was killed by a drone strike in Yemen a few days ago, a spokesman for the group made a surprise announcement:

Although there remain several candidates for his replacement, our first choice is a senior fellow from the Brookings Institution who for obvious reasons will henceforth only be referred to by his nom de guerre, al-Moderation.

Much as al-Wuhayshi’s loss is regrettable, it opens up new opportunities for fresh blood, allowing younger, more liberally-minded members of AQAP to now explore non-violent avenues to achieve our objectives.

Hard to imagine that drone strikes might have this effect? No doubt, but what’s equally lacking in credibility is the kind of claim that predictably followed the latest strike.

With a triumphalist tone, the spokesman for the National Security Council, Ned Price, said al-Wuhayshi’s death was a “major blow” to the militant group. He said it “removes from the battlefield an experienced terrorist leader and brings us closer to degrading and ultimately defeating these groups.”

Seriously?

In an effort to perpetuate the grandiose spirit with which Obama began his drone warfare campaign, Price said: “The president has been clear that terrorists who threaten the United States will not find safe haven in any corner of the globe.”

Yet in Yemen, that corner of the globe where Obama’s drone campaign has largely been focused, the assessment of the former U.S. ambassador, Stephen Seche, is that: “If you’re looking for logic here, you’re not going to find much.”

Why? Because as the U.S. launches occasional drone strikes against AQAP, it is also offering logistical support to Saudi Arabia in its attacks against the group’s principal opponents, the Houthi rebels.

With the promotion of Qasim al-Raymi, the group apparently had no trouble in choosing a new leader.

Orlando Crowcroft writes:

“I think if you were going to guess who would replace al-Wuhayshi, this would [be] the guy. It makes a lot of sense,” said Adam Baron, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Although the loss of four key figures in as many months is a blow for AQAP, the group is having a great deal of success in Yemen in the wake of Saudi Arabia’s war against the Houthi rebels. That conflict has largely affected the north and west of the country, allowing al-Qaeda to seize huge swathes of the east, its traditional Sunni tribal heartland.

“It is a great time for AQAP […] when you look at the situation on the ground. As long as the war continues, as long as Yemen continues inching further and further into the abyss of being a failed state, AQAP and other groups will continue to capitalise,” said Baron.

“Celebrating the death of al-Wuhayshi as if it means the death of AQAP is a very flawed way to look at this.”

If the Al Qaeda central leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was ever to come into the sights of an American drone operator, the wisest response would be to hold fire, and yet the simplistic assumption behind President Obama’s strategy of eliminating so-called high value targets, is that terrorist groups suffer potentially crippling blows whenever their leaders are eliminated — an assumption that is nothing more than an exercise in wishful thinking.

When it comes to the leadership of terrorist organizations, more often than not, it tends to be a case of better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

As much as politicians and pundits would prefer terrorists to be seen as extraterrestrial beings, they do in reality exhibit many traits common to their fellow men, one of which is that aging quite often has the effect of curtailing aggression. And even if aging doesn’t lead to moderation, it almost always diminishes the capacities of adaptation.

Even so, over the last decade and a half, a constant refrain from America’s military leaders has been that they struggle against highly adaptable foes. No one seems to recognize that this adaptability is not simply a challenge; it is also an effect of U.S. counter-terrorism strategy.

If Obama’s own mysterious strategy extends further than crossing dates off the calendar as he looks forward to leaving office, it is perhaps one of conflict maintenance — to keep the war on terrorism on a slow simmer. Not too hot, nor too cool, but just hot enough to ensure that national security has its required prominence during the 2016 presidential campaign and that whoever enters the White House in January, 2017, will be able to continue with business as usual in America’s ongoing wars.

If 9/11 was the product of a failure of imagination, so is the war on terrorism.

And if for Obama, drone warfare once looked like a magic bullet whose power derived from its precision, it now represents the impotence of a strategy leading nowhere.

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Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and Al Qaeda

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Yemen: Scores of civilians killed and injured by anti-aircraft fire and airstrikes on weapons depots

Amnesty International: Scores of casualties in Sana’a have been caused by anti-aircraft munitions shot by the Huthi armed group which detonated after landing in populated areas killing and maiming civilians, said Amnesty International.

During a week-long trip to the Yemeni capital, the organization spoke to medical staff at nine hospitals and residents who said that anti-aircraft weapons were the leading cause of casualties in the capital. Saudi Arabian-led coalition airstrikes against weapons depots in residential areas have triggered further explosions, also killing and injuring other civilians.

“Sana’a’s residents are caught in a deadly crossfire between the Saudi Arabian-led coalition airstrikes and anti-aircraft fire from the Huthi armed group. Both sides have failed to take the necessary precautions to protect civilian lives in violation of the laws of war. Instead they have carried out attacks that have had devastating consequences for the civilian population,” said Lama Fakih, Senior Crisis Advisor at Amnesty International.

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ISIS claims responsibility for bombing at Saudi mosque

The New York Times reports: The Islamic State extremist group claimed responsibility Friday for a suicide bombing during midday prayer at a Shiite mosque in eastern Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Health Ministry said at least 21 people had been killed and more than 120 others injured.

It appeared to be the first official claim of an attack inside the kingdom by the Islamic State, which has seized control of much of Syria and Iraq.

The group attributed the attack to a new unit, the Najd Province, named for the central region of Saudi Arabia around Riyadh. But it was unclear whether the attack was planned by Islamic State leaders, initiated independently by a Saudi sympathizer, or merely claimed opportunistically after the fact.

The attack was a sign that Saudi Arabia’s intervention in the sectarian conflict in Yemen may be escalating tensions at home. Members of the Shiite minority in Saudi Arabia, who make up about 15 percent of the population and live mainly in the Eastern Province, have long complained of insults and discrimination by Saudi Arabia’s Sunni majority and its clerical establishment. [Continue reading…]

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1,850 killed, over 500,000 displaced in Yemen: UN

AFP: The United Nations said on Tuesday that some 1,850 people had been killed and more than 500,000 displaced as a result of the conflict raging in Yemen since late March.

As of May 15, 1,849 people had been killed and 7,394 had been injured, the UN humanitarian agency said citing numbers from Yemen health facilities.

The UN has repeatedly stressed that many of those injured and killed do not pass through health facilities, meaning the actual toll could be higher.

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Stakes getting dangerously high for Saudi Arabia and its young prince

Bruce Riedel writes: As the war in Yemen resumes after a short humanitarian truce, the stakes are getting higher for Saudi Arabia’s princes.

The Royal Saudi Air Force and its allies resumed their bombing campaign this week after a five-day cease-fire to allow humanitarian supplies into Yemen. Saudi Arabia’s 29-year-old Defense Minister Prince Mohammed bin Salman has staked his future and his country’s on achieving some kind of victory in the kingdom’s war in Yemen. A truce that leaves Sanaa under the control of what the Saudis claim is an Iranian protégé regime is clearly not a decisive victory for the royals.

Instead — after weeks of air attacks on the Zaydi Shiite Houthi rebels and their allies — the prince’s war looks like a stalemate. The immense damage done to Yemen’s weak infrastructure has created considerable bad blood between Yemenis and their rich Gulf neighbors that will poison relations for years. Yemenis always resented their rich brothers, and now many will want revenge. Iran is scoring a victory on its Gulf rival without any cost to Tehran and with only limited Iranian assistance to the Zaydis. [Continue reading…]

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Yemen is being held hostage by opposing forces

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad writes: Early last year, the Houthis, followers of a revivalist anti-Western cleric, moved out of their northern highlands and marched south towards Sanaa, promising to end corruption, to fight al-Qaida, challenge US hegemony – al-Qaida and the Americans were allies in the subjugation of Muslims, they said – and raise Yemenis out of poverty and powerlessness into a shining and more dignified future. In 2011 President Saleh had been toppled to be replaced by his deputy, the aloof Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who had allowed al-Islah – the Yemeni branch of the Muslim Brotherhood – to control many offices of state. One crony kleptocratic elite had made way for another. Yemen wanted change and the Houthis faced little or no resistance.

The Houthis marched towards Sanaa slowly but with determination. They laid siege to sectarian rivals, fought tribal leaders aligned with those rivals and outmanoeuvred their own allies. Towns fell before their troops, army bases surrendered or switched allegiance without much of a fight and the houses of those who dared to oppose them were demolished with explosives. In mid-September they built protest camps around Sanaa, ostensibly to demonstrate against a planned hike on fuel prices but effectively laying siege to the city. The army did what it usually does and shot and killed several demonstrators. Two days later, on 21 September, after defeating tribal and military units affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, Sanaa went down without much of a crash or a thud. The UN special envoy and the president came up with an agreement that enshrined the Houthis as the new masters of the city, and to preserve the façade of the political process and safeguard their jobs they declared that in every other way it was business as usual.

With the help of Popular Committees, representing their military wing, the Houthis raided and blockaded ministries, scrutinised bank accounts and removed ministers and officials from office. They even confiscated that sacred sceptre of the state, the departmental rubber stamps. The state was held hostage. The Supreme Revolutionary Committee became the authority that wielded political power and was housed in the city centre in a white hotel building with square balconies and green stone cornicing. From the early hours of the morning until late at night a motley crowd came and went through its gates. They included farmers seeking to address injustices inflicted by wealthy landlords, tribal leaders pledging allegiance, maverick politicians seeking positions in the new administration or businessmen looking for ways to avoid punishment. Even tribesmen who had long bickered over blood feuds came seeking a solution. Everyone wanted absolution from the new rulers of Sanaa. [Continue reading…]

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Saudi forces and Houthis trade heavy fire along border

Al Jazeera reports: Yemen’s Houthi fighters and Saudi Arabian forces have traded heavy artillery and rocket fire in border areas, residents say, a day before a proposed ceasefire.

The Houthis said they fired Katyusha rockets and mortars on the Saudi cities of Jizan and Najran on Monday, after the Saudis hit Saada and Hajjah provinces with more than 150 rockets, the Reuters news agency reported.

Saudi Arabia’s civil defence department said that one Saudi person was killed in the shelling in Najran, which it said targeted a school and residence adjacent to a military post. [Continue reading…]

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Yemen: Coalition blocking desperately needed fuel

Human Rights Watch: The Saudi Arabia-led coalition’s blockade of Yemen is keeping out fuel needed for the Yemeni population’s survival in violation of the laws of war. Yemen is in urgent need of fuel to power generators for hospitals overwhelmed with wounded from the fighting and to pump water to civilian residences.

The 10-country coalition, which has United States logistics and intelligence support, should urgently implement measures for the rapid processing of oil tankers to allow the safe, secure, and speedy distribution of fuel supplies to the civilian population. The Houthis and other armed groups controlling port areas should permit the safe transfer of fuel to hospitals and other civilian entities. Fuel should be allowed to go through whether or not a proposed ceasefire takes effect.

“The rising civilian casualties from the fighting could become dwarfed by the harm caused to civilians by the coalition blockade on fuel, if it continues,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “It is unclear how much longer Yemen’s remaining hospitals have before the lights go out.” [Continue reading…]

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Houthi rebels agree to 5-day cease-fire in Yemen

The New York Times: Yemen’s Houthi rebels said on Sunday that they had agreed to a five-day cease-fire proposed by Saudi Arabia that would allow desperately needed humanitarian relief supplies to be delivered to the country, according to a Houthi-controlled news service.

The Houthis’ acceptance of the cease-fire came as a Saudi-led military coalition bombed the private residence of Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s former president and the Houthis’ most important ally in the war. Mr. Saleh apparently survived the attack on his residence, in Sana, the Yemeni capital.

In its statement accepting the cease-fire, the Houthis said the group would “respond” to any violation of the truce by “Al Qaeda or those who stand with them.” The Houthis frequently assert that their opponents, who include southern separatists; supporters of Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, Yemen’s exiled president; moderate Islamists; and more hard-line groups, all belong to Al Qaeda.

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Saudi Arabia announces cease-fire in Yemen

The New York Times reports: Saudi Arabia announced on Friday that it would halt its bombing campaign in Yemen for five days beginning on Tuesday, in a sign that it was bowing to international pressure to ease a worsening humanitarian crisis in a country battered by weeks of war.

Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir of Saudi Arabia said the cease-fire would begin at 11 p.m. Tuesday. Mr. Jubeir, who spoke at a news conference in Paris with Secretary of State John Kerry, said the success of the cease-fire was contingent on cooperation by the Houthis, the Yemeni rebel group that has been the target of a Saudi-led military offensive that began in late March.

“It is our hope and our desire that the Houthis will come to their senses,” Mr. Jubeir said. The Houthis did not react to the cease-fire proposal later on Friday. [Continue reading…]

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The Gulf’s failure in Yemen

Farea Al-Muslimi writes: Since late March, a Saudi Arabia-led military coalition has been bombing Yemen extensively in an attempt to push back the Houthis, an insurgent Shia group, and their ally, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The coalition’s goal is to force the Houthis to retreat and to weaken Saleh’s hold on power. But so far, the only definitive outcome of the war is civilian devastation: At least a thousand Yemenis have died, thousands more have been injured, and hundreds of thousands have been forced to flee their homes.

Even if the Gulf countries do eventually succeed in driving out the Houthis, their intervention in Yemen is actually a sign of their failure, particularly Saudi Arabia’s. In effect, the richest country in the Arab world has had to bomb the poorest one to change its political dynamics. One might even go as far as to say that the current crisis in Yemen is a direct result of regional inaction over the last few years, if not decades.

In 2011, the Arab Spring pushed the country to the brink of civil war as protestors sought to oust a stubborn Saleh. The United Nations intervened by crafting a model for a peaceful transition with the support of six countries from the regional Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The initiative led to a successful handover of presidency from Saleh to interim leader Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, but at that time, the Gulf States were not deeply invested in the process and only played a limited role in the power turnover. They had other preoccupations. Saudi Arabia, for example, was consumed with supporting Egypt’s own leadership change, and other Gulf countries were attempting to topple President Bashar al Assad’s regime in Syria.

These same countries watched from the sidelines as this UN-administered GCC project unraveled. After Saleh’s exit, the gradual power transition focused on building consensus among Yemen’s elites. Hadi proved an incompetent leader, unable to provide either physical or economic security to an unstable country. Over the years, while Hadi and the UN envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar led the peace process, busying themselves with meetings in the capital’s five star hotels, armed groups like the Houthis began to take over large swaths of the country. Here, the international community is also to blame. Last year, in attempt to stop the Houthis’ violent spread across Yemen, the UN Security Council sanctioned the group’s leaders with travel bans and asset freezes. But since the targeted figures never travelled outside Yemen and dealt strictly in cash, the sanction was a joke. [Continue reading…]

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Yemen through its literature: A nation besieged

Nahrain Al-Mousawi writes: The recent Saudi-led bombing campaign against Yemen has been reduced to a simplistic narrative of a Sunni-Shia divide driving national conflict – reminiscent of an essentialist “clash of civilizations” trope. This sectarian paradigm attributes all conflict to the notion of cultural boundaries developed over centuries-old divides. Although limited in publication and certainly by translation, Yemeni literature (and lack thereof) functions, on the other hand, as a prism of a nation riven by years of occupation, civil war, corruption, and poverty – issues that far transcend the simplistic sectarian narrative willingly peddled by the media. While the isolated, impoverished nation struggles to negotiate a fraught economic and political terrain, poetry and verse have never ceased to dominate the country’s cultural landscape.

Despite the sparse landscape of Yemeni publishing, a hopeful assessment emerged earlier this year in the Yemen Times – that is, before the Saudi intervention: “Despite ongoing political and economic turmoil, national literature [in Yemen] saw an unexpected surge in 2014. Twenty novels were published by Yemeni authors last year, and while that figure may seem insignificant in a regional or global context, it is considerably more than the eight books produced the previous year. Indeed, it is about ten percent of all the books ever published by Yemeni writers, and considering the hardships facing the country today it is an extraordinary achievement.”

As in other Arab countries, the 20th century signalled the popularity of short stories and novels alongside poetry. Yemeni literature in translation has been less available, and literary works translated to English are a mere handful. However, they serve as a prism reflecting a complex history of authoritarianism, resistance, transnational ties, and a critique of gender conventions. [Continue reading…]

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The war in Yemen is splitting us

Ruba al-Eryani writes: Last week, after finishing my morning lectures, I called my family in Yemen – a daily routine since the escalation of the conflict last month.

“Most of the windows in the house are shattered. But the Saudis have stopped [striking] for now,” my dad said. “Oh, wait, I was wrong. They’re at it again.”

Except, they weren’t. The ‘pounding’ my father was hearing was my nine-year-old brother in the next room beating cushions with his fists as he imitated the sound of airstrikes.

Ever since a Saudi-led coalition launched ‘Operation Decisive Storm’ – a bombing campaign that aims to reinstate President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and push back Houthis rebels – I have been struggling to sleep. Caught between two time zones, the gulf between my life as a university student abroad and that as an activist watching Yemen fall apart, widens every day. [Continue reading…]

Middle East Eye reports: Weeks of airstrikes by a Saudi Arabia-led coalition have devastated Yemen’s northern province of Saada, a remote stronghold of the Shiite Houthis who the coalition are trying to drive back.

“The Saudis have decimated Saada. They bombed roads, government buildings, schools and military sites,” Muammar al-Thari, the deputy governor of Saada, told Middle East Eye by telephone on Monday.

Al-Thari said the province was a “disaster area,” and that he was sending appeals to international rights organisations to pressure Saudi Arabia to halt the airstrikes.

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