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Abu Sinan you may be surprised to learn that there is nothing in what you say I disagree with. Including Iran, including weapons, including the rivalry between UAE and Saudi, including Ali Muhsin etc. The only point I would include is that the Huthis (as all Yemenis must do) take some of the blame. I am not anti-Huthi at all, I am just pointing out that they took a decision to switch from insurgent movement that had fought 6 wars against Saleh to taking a decision to ally with him. The people of Sa'adah are among the most food insecure and malnourished in all of Yemen. They are now bombing and shelling people on behalf of their former foe. such is the way of things in Yemen. But they can't act victim when they are playing this game. This sense of victimhood and being pawns of global conspiracy run deep in Yemeni psychology. Part of my 'diatribe' is about taking the debate beyond that simplistic level. And yes, the Saudis are bombing and killing civilians. Yes its vile. Well so is what AQ are doing. So is what the southerners are now doing to each other. So is what the rest of society is busy doing, tearing itself apart and destroying the old order. Its painful for me to look at.
All I have spent the past year trying to understand exactly what the Saudis have been doing. The news simply polarises debate into pro-Saudi propaganda and pro-Saleh/Huthi propaganda. For example, there is a siege by Saleh/Huthis on Taiz yet the Gulf make only lip service to relieving that siege. Why? There is a blockade yet fuel and food continues to be available. How? The Huthis could invade Saudi and cause the collapse of the country. Why don't they?? The answers are not because the Saudis are generous but because they are being guided in this war by the US. No one mentions this. The only debate becomes a human rights one about the US selling weapons to the Saudis. I'm arguing for a deeper examination of that relationship. The answers intrigue me because - IMO - every party on all sides of this conflict is engaged in positioning themselves in a negotiation stance with the Saudis.
FB Ali I'm not writing here to confirm anyone's opinion. I know I am being provocative but perhaps that is one way of generating a debate. Few people or news outlets discuss Yemen at all. You are making an ad hominem attack on me as the author of something you disagree with rather than refuting my points.
JMG You're not making an argument. Tell me where I've got it wrong.
Babak you're on to something. Im trying to suggest that perhaps this strategy wasn't devised in Riyadh but actually in DC.
Pmr9 What agricultural development are you talking about? In the 1970s Yemen used to export coffee, now it imports it. Back then there was less consumption of qat. There was also more water and less people. The population has now more than quadrupled since then and the country is fast running out of water. This is a country that doesn't grow food and can't feed itself. It can't even afford to buy the food it has to import to feed itself. Yemen is deeply dysfunctional and all surrounding countries plus Europe and the US have long had a negative part to play in that.
FB Ali the Saudis have much responsibility to bear, as does the US. But I am fed up of hearing from Yemenis how they are pawns in a larger conspiracy of the Gulf or that AQ is completely a foreign import, or that Iran is behind everything. I want to up that level of debate and call out the guilty parties. Yemenis deciding to have 10 children each saying "God will provide", or spending all day chewing qat without thinking they don't have the water for it, or moving all their agricultural production over to qat so they have to import nearly all their food staples - its collective madness. The oil resources since 1994 have just been sent abroad or burnt on subsidised diesel to farm qat. Barely any inward investment. The Saudis have been lazy and think they can pay off certain sheikhs and control the country. But this is on the back of promoting Wahhabism since the 1970s. In many ways the Huthis are a response to that assault on their history and culture. Now the Saudis chose to fight in order - probably - to boost the new king (Mohammed bin Salman) in his internal ratings. The US has allowed itself to be fooled into a never-ending drone programme that goes nowhere. I am attempting to bring my experience of recent history and speaking to all the above players into this debate. The US media, as you rightly point out, are just repeating the PR bullshit from US companies paid by Saudi money. But I equally reject the opposite, that poor Yemen is under bombardment and siege in a war they didn't start.
Tidewater, you have been following developments fairly closely I see! AQ are linked to smuggling, for sure, but the figures of $2 million per day are much exaggerated. In addition the guys involved in this are more connected to Sanaa than they are to AQ. The cliched notion often recycled by international media that they are generous to their constituents by providing services or giving away money is just hogwash. The Yemeni government in Riyadh are paying the money to civil servants (including the military up and down the country) and make sure that electricity and water and mobile comms are all still (kind of) functioning. NOT AQ. As I have noted before, despite the fact that Mukalla and Hadramawt are the heartland of AQ there have been zero attacks on the international oil sector workers, zero attacks on the oil infrastructure there, zero attacks on the oil export terminal etc etc etc. Funny that, isn't it? Any attacks you might read attributed to AQ in those areas are usually the northern military attempting to coerce protection money out of the IOCs. The real threat to Sanaa (Ali Abdallah Saleh) is a southern independence movement. He has no sway over them and knows they are a genuine popular social force that he has had to manage with targeted violence since 2007. He has been failing in that. AQ have never represented a popular threat to his rule, nor a clear danger to the military or oil companies there. They are given licence to make videos, take over bits of territory, all as long as they remain on a short leash. The coalition since last night has given the orders to the Hadramawt tribes to start their offensive against AQ and associated mafia elements, who probably amount to a few hundred at most.
Cynic Yemen is a headache for anyone trying to deal with it. Ask the Turks or the Egyptians! For the Saudis it is all about containment. They need to contain the threat posed by Saleh's ability to project power (Scud missiles, an airforce, connections to AQ etc) or contain the border problems with the Huthis, or contain the extent to which Iran may or may not have influence over the Huthis. There is no solution to Yemen. 30 million tribesmen there outnumber the combined populations of the entire GCC countries. The biggest 'threat' in many ways would be millions of starving refugees entering Saudi Arabia. That would be a greater threat to the internal stability than a few cross border Huthi raids. Weapons: Yemen is probably one of the largest arms dealer in the region, certainly in terms of volume. The Somali conflict has been fuelled for years on Yemeni government arms dealers. There are links across Africa, to Libya even. It is state sponsored.
B the BBC report was low on facts or explanation. They showed part of the fighting in Taiz. The main body of resistance there are made up of Salafi fighters. They do not call themselves AQ because of the long standing hatred that most Yemenis have for what they view as a tool of Ali Abdallah Saleh. These guys prefer to call themselves Salafis because they avoid that label. However, like most at SST, I would say there's not much difference between their outlook and that of AQ in Syria. It does mean that the Gulf coalition are fighting with one AQ type organisation in one place (Taiz) and fighting against the official AQ in another place (Aden, Abyan, Lahij and Hadramawt). As for weaponry, Yemen is awash with small arms and Yemenis are very discerning when it comes to their AK's, they prefer the East German ones, which command the highest price. The Chinese and Egyptian ones are not liked. But the reason that people might not buy an FN is the ammunition. Its expensive enough for an AK round, $1.20 before the war. I imagine a NATO 7.62 would be considerably higher.
Babak and Amir Iran has been involved in Yemen for a number of years. Both with the Huthis and also with a number of politicians representing the south (Ali Salim al-Beidh was housed and protected by Hezbullah in southern Beirut until recently, Ali Nasir, Ba Oum all enjoy financial support too). Iran has also given various types of training to young media activists, bringing them to Tehran for training much in the same way that the US National Democratic Institute might do for, say, young 'activists' in Ukraine. I am less interested in Saudi claims of weapons to be honest, Yemenis don't need more weapons. The net effect has been for Iran to drag Saudi Arabia into a conflict it didn't want to get involved in. And for just a little bit of diplomatic effort, some military training, some statements in Tehran and a few million dollars. What a smart move!
CC There are numerous reasons. First of all the loss of face at having lost half the country would affect the Huthis claims to being fit to lead amongst their own constituency. Secondly most of the natural resources lie in the south. The remaining oil for sure, and arguably the main gas field and export pipe all lie in the south. Without that there is not much Yemen can export.
Ali there are very few Emirati troops in Aden and they have learned to isolate themselves from everyone. There are some Saudi and apparently Qatari troops in Marib in the northern desert close to the Saudi border. All these troops are playing the role of REMFs. They don't do any fighting. They;re not really fit for that purpose. Where there is combat it is Yemenis fighting Yemenis. I dismiss the blockade because while there are several navies patrolling the Gulf of Aden, or the sealed border, there is still no shortage of food or fuel inside the country. The siege is to stop weapons coming in perhaps, but not anything else. Now, there are civilians being killed, quite right, but whether it is 5,000 or 10,000 or more these numbers are insignificant when we think about the possible consequences of stopping fuel or food or support to the economy. Before the war the majority of the population suffered from lack of adequate food intake. The problem was not the lack of food but that most people couldn't afford the food at market prices. If the Yemeni rial was to collapse then food prices would go through the roof and famine rates would go up and people would start dying by the thousands and hundreds of thousands. The real silent killer would be that famine, not coalition bombs or Huthi shelling of neighbourhoods in Taiz. I am - to be clear - in no way excusing this bombing campaign, I am just pointing out that we are not seeing a war such as that in Syria. It is very limited and, to a large extent, very stage managed by all the actors involved.
Liza 1) I would say that if we think in strict terms of territory held then its quite clear that Saleh and the Huthis have the upper hand. However the Saudis have a complete stranglehold on the economy. They are busy making sure that everyone understands this basic fact and are then slowly, slowly negotiating from that starting point. I think the Huthis are well aware that there is no real prospect of cutting themselves off the Saudi lifeline, no matter how much they would like to. It means that, IMO, there will eventually be a waning of influence away from Saleh and the Huthis. 2) If the Huthis wanted to Im quite sure they could inflict serious damage inside Saudi Arabia. Some figures close to Saleh recently suggested that they could inflict damage deep inside the kingdom by taking over government buildings and hospitals. Im sure they could but they won't. Saleh (not the Huthis) would have to be very desperate to commit such an act. At this point the Huthis appear to limit their attacks on isolated border posts, film the attack, then run back. The Saudis usually respond with Apache gunships but its a very limited cat and mouse type of game.
Babak The possibility of a breakup of Yemen is greater now than at any time since 1994. I feel that the majority of southerners would easily vote to separate from the north. But now there is the spectre of a larger fragmentation happening with the lowland north seeking to split from the highlands. I feel that the Saudis are using this prospect to push the Huthis towards the negotiating table.
Tidewater AQAP is not an independent entity with freedom to do as it pleases. It is partly a hardcore of jihadi fighters but its current commander, Qasim al-Raymi, has been outed as a stooge of former president Saleh. There is a strong element of organised crime that attaches itself - or advertises itself - as AQ because its a fig leaf for drug smuggling, bank robbing and other such activities. There is strong circumstantial evidence linking northern elements of the security and military to playing a role. How? Well, you take off your uniform, call yourself AQ, and carry on as normal. Who is there from the international media to know the difference? The locals know because they recognise the same faces on the checkpoints but in different uniforms, such nuanced differences escape most external observers. In this way Saleh is able to manipulate the international media into believing there is this giant beast out there that needs slaying and only he can do it. Of course, he has a price for this. Now, this is not to suggest that there is no jihadi element to all this, I just question the numbers involved. Probably dozens, possibly a few hundred. Out of a population nudging 30 million that's quite a minuscule figure.
First of all, there is no genocide. As I argued if there was a real blockade there would be a genocide, but the overall figures are small. The US is complicit in the mess that Yemen has become due to political decisions taken post 2001. It is also complicit in ignoring the systemic problems for even longer. Yes, the US is also actively involved in supplying the Saudis with intelligence and targeting advice, as well as a number of PR companies helping the Saudis to mitigate the media backlash. Blame must also go to the Saudis, the Iranians, the Qataris etc. But Yemen is primarily responsible for its own mess.
Liza (and All), apologies, this is my first time posting and am unfamiliar with the format!
With the negotiations between various parties underway in Kuwait and just over one year since the outbreak of hostilities, perhaps it is time to evaluate the conflict in Yemen. If we were to rely solely on media reports, in English... Continue reading
Posted Apr 23, 2016 at Sic Semper Tyrannis
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Jan 22, 2016