Asher Orkaby / Foreign Affairs & Daniel Larison / The American Conservative – 2017-10-22 23:53:54
Yemen’s Humanitarian Nightmare
The Real Roots of the Conflict
Asher Orkaby / Foreign Affairs
(November/December 2017 Issue) — On February 20, 2015, as the residents of Sanaa prepared for evening prayers, Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi put on a woman’s niqab and slipped out the back door of his official residence, where a car was waiting for him. For a month, Houthi rebels, who had taken Sanaa in late 2014, had been holding him under house arrest.
By the time the guards noticed that he was gone, Hadi had reached the relative safety of the southern port of Aden. A month later, as Houthi forces advanced south, he fled again, this time to Riyadh, where he called on Saudi Arabia to intervene in Yemen’s civil war.
Within days, a Saudi-led coalition of Arab states began a campaign of air strikes against Houthi targets that rapidly became a siege of the entire country. Cut off from imports, and under a ceaseless Saudi bombardment, Yemen has turned into one of the worst humanitarian crises of modern times.
Seven million Yemenis live in areas that are close to famine, nearly two million children are suffering from acute malnutrition, and an outbreak of cholera has infected over 600,000 people.
The conflict in Yemen is often described as an outgrowth of the Shiite-Sunni rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, as Iran has supplied weapons and military advisers to the Houthis. But this misunderstands both the origins of the war and the reason why Saudi Arabia intervened.
The war is not about regional interests; it is a continuation of a long-standing conflict between the Yemeni government and marginalized northern tribes, which escalated thanks to a gradual decline in the legitimacy and competence of the central government in Sanaa. And Saudi Arabia intervened not to counter Iranian expansionism but to secure its southern border against the Houthi threat.
As a result, only an internal Yemeni political settlement can end the war, although Saudi Arabia, the United States, and international humanitarian organizations can do much to improve the situation in the meantime.
End the Wrecking and Starving of Yemen
Daniel Larison / The American Conservative
(October 17, 2017) — Asher Orkaby reviews the origins of the war on Yemen and describes the horrible humanitarian catastrophe that it has created. Here he notes that the Saudis’ justification for the intervention was made up to win international backing:
In March 2015, Saudi Arabia and a coalition of Arab nations from the Gulf Cooperation Council launched a military campaign to push back the Houthis and restore the government. Saudi Arabia presented the intervention as a response to the threat of Iranian expansionism, arguing that the Houthis were effectively an Iranian proxy.
This won it the support of other Arab countries and the United States. Yet Saudi rhetoric has grossly misrepresented Iran’s role in the conflict. Although some small arms and money have flowed from Iran to the Houthis, the amounts are not large, and there is no real Houthi-Iranian alliance [bold mine-DL].
It has been common in Western coverage of the war to frame it as a “proxy war” between the Saudis and Iran, and also to describe it primarily in sectarian terms, but both of these are inaccurate and have been promoted by the Saudis and their Western supporters to obscure the real reasons for the conflict.
Hawkish supporters of the war on Yemen have been eager to echo Saudi claims about Iranian “expansionism” because it dovetails with their other alarmist claims about Iran’s role in the region, and it somehow makes the wrecking and starving of Yemen more acceptable to our political class if it is being done for anti-Iranian reasons.
Regardless, the war is indefensible, and the US should have no part in it. Because the US has backed the war from the start, it is incumbent on our government and the public to bring it to an end and attempt to repair the damage that has been done to Yemen.
The famine and cholera crises that the Saudi-led campaign and blockade have caused are the worst in the world. Orkaby reminds us of the details:
The intervention, which began as a series of air strikes against Houthi military targets, has morphed into an attempt to destroy Yemen’s economic infrastructure in order to turn public opinion away from the Houthi movement and its anti-Saudi stance.
Hospitals, factories, water mains, sewage facilities, bridges, and roads have all been demolished in bombing raids. The Saudi coalition, with help from the United States, has blockaded Yemen’s ports and rendered it dangerous for civilian aircraft to fly over the country, making it difficult for aid agencies or businesses to bring goods into Sanaa’s airport and for wounded Yemenis to go abroad for treatment [bold mine-DL].
Yemen’s economy, already weak, has collapsed under the pressure. For many Yemenis, buying food or medicine is now difficult or impossible. According to the UN, two-thirds of Yemen’s 28 million people face food shortages and do not have access to clean water. Seven million of them live in areas on the brink of famine, and nearly two million Yemeni children are acutely malnourished [bold mine-DL].
Without working public services, rubbish and sewage have piled up on the streets and leached into drinking wells. Since April, cholera, which spreads in contaminated water, has infected over 600,000 people, killing more than 2,000.
As Reuters reported earlier this month, the widespread malnutrition and famine are the result of the coalition blockade. The cholera epidemic has become even worse than it was when Orkaby was writing this, as there are now over 840,000 cases. The Red Cross estimates that there will over one million by the end of the year, and that is probably a conservative estimate.
Millions of lives are threatened by starvation and preventable disease, these crises are being caused in large part because of the Saudi-led, US-backed campaign and blockade, and the suffering of the civilian population could be significantly ameliorated if those were brought to an end.
The Trump administration has shown no sign of halting its support for the coalition or pressuring the Saudis to end their failed war. If it is left up to the executive, US support for the war will never end, and that is why Congress must assert itself to end our involvement.
That is why it is imperative that the House pass H. Con. Res. 81 next month. The vote is expected to be held on November 2, so there is still time to contact your representatives and urge them to support the resolution. The House will have the opportunity to repudiate the disgraceful support that the US has been providing to the coalition, and I urge them to take it.
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