Associated Press & Ajamu Baraka / AntiWar.com & Daniel Larison / The American Conservative – 2015-04-01 00:42:59
Yemen Civilians Shudder, Bristle under Bombing Campaign
Associated Press & The New York Times
SANAA, Yemen (March 31, 2015) — Yemeni civilians shuddered in fear and bristled with anger under an intense Saudi-led bombing campaign against Shiite rebels on Tuesday, day six of fighting that prompted international aid organizations to express alarm over high civilian casualties from the strikes and violence roiling the country.
Residents of the capital, Sanaa, sought shelter and got little sleep during the night, while some took to the rooftops in anger or frustration, firing automatic rifles skywards toward the roar of warplanes. Schools, universities and government offices were all closed, along with most shops. Few cars ventured onto the mostly deserted streets.
“We haven’t slept — one child screams and a second cries,” said Mustafa al-Ahmadi, a father of eight who said the family seeks shelter in their basement when close explosions rock the house. “Once it’s quiet, we return to our room but the minute we step in, a second explosion rocks the house so we return to the basement. This is how we spend the night, running back and forth.”
Late on Tuesday night, Yemeni military officials said the Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, took up positions overlooking the strategic Bab-el-Mandeb strait, which serves as a gateway for oil tankers headed to Europe, raising the risk they could threaten the key global shipping route with heavy weapons.
In what was likely the worst night yet for Sanaa, aircraft late Monday and early Tuesday repeatedly bombed a weapons depot in the southern Faj Atten neighborhood, sending an eruption of fire into the air and shaking windows for kilometers (miles) around.
Officials from all sides said strikes hit the city’s so-called “security belt” of army camps surrounding the capital, some of which stored ballistic missiles. Those camps are held by the rebels or their allies, military units loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
“We ran to the shop to take shelter after 1 a.m. because of airstrikes on the mountain,” said Abdel-Rahman al-Hamidi, who lives near a rebel camp that was returning fire at warplanes. Many other shops are locked up with heavy metal chains.
The campaign by the Saudi-led coalition, made up mainly of Sunni Arab states, aims to weaken the Iranian-allied Houthis, who have overrun much of the country with the help of Saleh’s loyalists and forced Yemen’s current president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, to flee abroad.
The UN human rights office in Geneva said that in the past five days, at least 93 civilians have been killed and 364 wounded in five Yemeni cities engulfed in the violence, including, Sanaa. The overall figures are likely much higher and it was not immediately clear if the casualties cited by Geneva referred to just airstrikes or the strikes and fighting between Yemen’s warring factions. The Saudi-led coalition says rebels have set up positions near civilians but that it is doing its best to avoid civilian casualties.
Overnight and into early hours Tuesday, the coalition also struck in and around the cities of Taiz, Ibb, Shabwa and Dahle and Aden, according to Yemeni military and security officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
The southern port city of Aden, a stronghold of Hadi supporters, has shaken for days by coalition strikes and by fighting between Hadi loyalists and Houthi-Saleh forces holding several positions in the city.
One resident, Ahmed Mohsen, told of a deadly blast he saw Monday, apparently from an errant shell in the fighting. “Several residents were sitting on the pavement outside, then suddenly we heard explosions and six people were killed,” he said, adding that two others died of their wounds later.
Along with warplanes, warships and naval artillery were striking Houthi and pro-Saleh forces marching on Aden, trying to prevent them from reaching the city. Hadi had declared Aden the temporary capital of his government after he was forced to flee Houthi-controlled Sanaa. Last week, Hadi left the country for a summit in Egypt as fighting in Aden heated up.
Meanwhile, Iran said it sent an aid shipment to Yemen, according to the official IRNA news agency — Tehran’s first such delivery since the airstrikes started. The aid contained 19 tons of medicines and medical equipment and two tons of food provided by the Iranian Red Crescent, IRNA said.
The agency reported that the aid was delivered by air early Tuesday but did not say where the cargo landed. The coalition has bombed a number of rebel-held airports and says it fully controls Yemen’s airspace.
The conflict in Yemen marks a major escalation in the regional struggle for influence between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which also back rival sides in Syria’s civil war. Critics of the Houthis charge that they are an Iranian proxy. Iran has provided aid to the rebels, but both Tehran and the Houthis deny it has armed them.
At night, Saudi warplanes bombed islands near the Bab-el-Mandeb strait and heavy anti-aircraft fire could be seen reaching upward into the sky, military officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information otherwise.
They say the rebels, which have been the target of a Saudi-led air offensive, are positioned in areas called Zabab and the Sheikh Said mountain next to the strait. International naval forces patrol the area and movement there has been normal.
From Riyadh, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal insisted that Yemen’s security was integral to the Gulf Arab region’s overall security.
“We are not warmongers, but if the drums of war call for it, we are prepared,” al-Faisal said in a speech to the consultative Shura Council. “The Houthi militias and the former president (Saleh), with Iranian support, insist on messing in Yemen.”
Tuesday’s statement from Geneva said UN human rights staffers in Yemen verified that at least 19 civilians died when airstrikes hit a camp for displaced people near the Houthi stronghold of Saada in northern Yemen, with at least 35 wounded, including 11 children.
The UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Tuesday said he was shocked by Monday’s airstrike at the camp for displaced people and called on all sides to protect civilians from harm.
“The situation in Yemen is extremely alarming, with dozens of civilians killed over the past four days,” Al Hussein said. “The country seems to be on the verge of total collapse.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross on Tuesday called for the urgent removal of obstacles to the delivery of vital medical supplies needed to treat casualties.
Associated Press writers Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran; Geir Moulson in Berlin and Maggie Michael and Brian Rohan in Cairo contributed to this report.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Another Illegal War in the Middle East
Ajamu Baraka / AntiWar.com
(March 31, 2015) — Saudi Arabia has commenced military operations against the Ansarullah fighters of the Houthi movement in Yemen. The Saudi intervention was not unexpected. Over the last few weeks, there were signs that the United States and the Saudis were preparing the ground for direct military intervention in Yemen in response to the Houthis’ seizing the Yemeni capital of Sana’a last January.
The appearance of a previously unknown Islamic State element in Yemen, which was supposedly responsible for the recent massive bomb attack that killed over 130 people, and the subsequent withdrawal of US diplomatic personnel were the clear signals that direct intervention was imminent.
With the fall of al-Anad air base, where the US military and CIA conducted drone warfare in Yemen, and the siege of the port city of Aden, where disposed President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi had fled, it was almost certain that the US would greenlight its client states to intervene.
Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir cloaked the role of Saudi Arabia within the fictitious context of another grand coalition, this time led by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) — the corrupt collection of authoritarian monarchies allied with the United States and the other Western colonial powers.
Al-Jubeir added that before launching operations in Yemen, all of Saudi Arabia’s allies were consulted. The meaning of that statement is that the US was fully invested in the operation.
Even though the ambassador stressed that Washington was not directly involved in the military component of the assault, CNN reported that an interagency US coordination team was in Saudi Arabia. A US official subsequently confirmed that Washington would be providing logistical and intelligence support for the operation.
And what was the justification for launching a military operation not sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council?
According to the Saudis, they have legitimate regional security concerns in Yemen. Their argument was that since they share a border with Yemen, the chaos that erupted over the last few months — culminating in what they characterize as a coup by the Houthi insurgency — forced them to intervene to establish order and defend by “all efforts” the legitimate government of President Hadi.
But this is becoming an old and tired justification for criminality in support of hegemony.
The intervention by the Saudis and the GCC continues the international lawlessness that the United States precipitated with its “War on Terror” over the last decade and a half. Violations of the UN Charter and international law modeled by the powerful states of the West has now become normalized, resulting in an overall diminution of international law and morality over the last 15 years.
The double standard and hypocrisy of US support for the Saudi intervention in Yemen, compared to Western and US condemnation of Russia’s regional security concerns in response to the coup in Ukraine, will not be missed by most people.
And so the conflagration in the Middle East continues.
The US and Saudi geo-strategic interest in containing the influence of Iran has trumped international law and any concerns about the lives of the people of Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Bahrain. Militarism, with war as the first option, has now become the default instrument of statecraft in an international order in which power trumps morality and law is only applied to the powerless.
Ajamu Baraka is an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. He can be reached at Ajamubaraka.com. This article was originally published at AjamuBaraka.com and reprinted by Foreign Policy In Focus.
The US Backs a War in Yemen It Doesn’t Understand
Daniel Larison / The American Conservative
(March 31, 2015) — Micah Zenko notes that no one in the US government has any idea of what the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen is supposed to accomplish:
At least the Pentagon wasn’t trying to make things up. Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of Central Command, was frank when asked what the purpose of the campaign was, stating, “I don’t currently know the specific goals and objectives of the Saudi campaign, and I would have to know that to be able to assess the likelihood of success.”
Despite the astonishing acknowledgment that he did not know why the intervention was occurring and was only given a few hours’ advance notice, Austin declared himself “very encouraged that we have seen what we’ve seen here.”
As Zenko says, the US is directly participating in this intervention. US forces may not be dropping the bombs, but they are (mis)identifying the targets and refueling the attacking countries’ planes, and our government is endorsing the campaign without clearly understanding what it is intended to accomplish.
It is superficially tempting to see this as an example of how regional powers can manage their own problems, but they aren’t doing this on their own.
As it did in Libya, the US is making an unnecessary war much easier for the governments that want to fight it. “Leading from behind” in practice means facilitating the reckless wars of allies and clients through ill-advised US backing.
The official Saudi line is that they are intervening to “protect” Yemen and its people, which is as credible as having Israel claim that its periodic bombing campaigns in Gaza are intended to “protect” Gaza and its inhabitants.
This “protection” will come at the expense of a great many Yemeni lives and it is presumably happening against the will of most people in Yemen, but so long as an unnecessary war is dressed up in the rhetoric of protecting the population it doesn’t seem to raise very many red flags.
Asher Orkaby reviews the history of a previous failed intervention in a Yemeni civil war in the 1960s, and reaches this conclusion:
With each falling bomb, the Yemeni population grows increasingly more sympathetic for the Houthi movement, which is emerging as the Yemen’s heroic defenders against foreign elements looking to destroy the country.
With both Saudi Arabia and Egypt announcing their intentions to commit ground troops to the northern highlands, it seems that both countries are playing with fire and ignoring their own history of failed military interventions in Yemen.
If the Houthis are seen as defending their country from foreign attack, it makes sense that this would only benefit them politically. When a country comes under attack, the population doesn’t normally reward the attackers by falling in line behind their political goals. We should assume that most Yemenis won’t want any part of the “protection” that the Saudis are pretending to offer.
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