The Yemen war so far in brief; following a power struggle between ex-President Saleh and President Hadi (both of whom had a very tenuous claim for presidency) the very unpopular Hadi, fearing loss of power in democratic elections, asked Saudi Arabia to take his side and bomb Yemen – which they willingly and enthusiastically did, from 25th March this year. They had already formed a coalition of GCC and other Arab states and had backing from UK, US, and France. The Houthi militias backed Saleh, and a mix of other militias took a stand against the Houthis; this included Islah (Muslim Brotherhood), secessionist militias (Al Hirak), Al Qaeda, Da’esh, and local militias in the southwest. The Yemen army split, most of which backed the Saleh-Houthi alliance but the Army brigades associated with Ali Muhsin backed Hadi. Al Qaeda took control of the eastern port of Mukalla and much of the large Eastern province of Hadramaut. The Houthis held the west side of Yemen without opposition, and moved into the southwest corner of Yemen where they met with local resistance, with all sides behaving in an immoral, brutal and inhumane manner in the ground war there.
A one-sided UNSC resolution in April required the Houthi-Saleh alliance to leave all parts of Yemen which they had captured and move back to their homeland in the northwest of Yemen. The UN called Hadi ‘the legitimate President’ and did not acknowledge that this was a contested issue within Yemen. The first round of the peace talks in the summer came to nothing. In July, ground troops entered Yemen, mostly from UAE, but also from Malaysia, Qatar and Bahrain and supported by a rag-bag of Yemeni militias; they drove out the Houthi-Saleh alliance from the port of Aden. After the Houthis left, different militias struggled for control, including Al Qaeda. Da’esh remains active and has claimed suicide attacks in Aden as well as other parts of Yemen. Other foci of war were in Taiz in the southwest and on route to the capital Sanaa, central Yemen in Marib where the Yemeni oilfields are, and also the army loyal to Saleh moved across the border to the Saudi cities of Najran and Jizan which historically were part of Yemen. Most of the west side of Yemen (the Old North plus Aden and Lahj) have been bombed relentlessly by the Saudi led coalition. Some cities have been virtually erased by aerial assaults from the Saudi-led coalition (for example in the first 250 days Saada suffered 42,500 air to ground missiles), and many other cities have been seriously damaged.
It is claimed illegal weapons have been used, for example, chemical weapons, cluster bombs, and in the crater of one bomb dropped on 20th May in the capital Sanaa nuclear materials have been found in the debris. Civilian structures have been widely targeted, for example, homes, schools, hospitals, mosques, roads, bridges, petrol stations, factories, food stores, ports, airports, displaced people’s camps, markets, museums, electricity stations, water tanks. Many important historic buildings have been damaged and destroyed, such as the achingly beautiful 2,500 year Old City of Sanaa, a UNESCO world heritage site, the oldest inhabited city in the world.
Additionally, the Saudi navy commenced a blockade on Yemen in March, which had previously imported 90% of its goods, including diesel – important for electricity and to pump water, all of which is pumped from deep wells in Yemen. This blockade is assisted by US and UK navies, and enforced by the French Navy. It has led to widespread water-borne diseases and starvation, and 85% of the 26 million people living in Yemen are suffering from acute severe food insecurity. 500,000 children currently are severely malnourished. Very few hospitals are now functioning. After 5 months, the UNSC was told that Yemen already looked like Syria after 5 years – and yet the world did nothing to try to stop the war. Amnesty and HRW have claimed that war crimes are being committed and illegal weapons used, but this has not stopped the West from arming Saudi Arabia, any investigations made more difficult as Saudi Arabia was appointed to the UN Human Rights Commission in November. An attempt to get an independent enquiry into the events in Yemen by the Netherlands was blocked by Saudi Arabia and the GCC states.
To make matters worse, on October 30th East Yemen was hit with Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm Chapala; a very rare and powerful tropical cyclone which with gusts up to 250 kph became the strongest cyclone on record to hit Yemen, as well as the most powerful storm known to have existed in the Gulf of Aden. It was followed by Cyclone Megh of equal intensity a week later that particularly damaged the Yemeni Island of Soqatra, one of the top sites on the UNESCO World Heritage list because of its biodiversity with rich and distinct flora and fauna. These cyclones devastated the eastern side of Yemen, under the control of Al Qaeda but not as involved in the conflict as the rest of Yemen.
Peace talks were set for November and all sides were struggling for a better position before entering the war, with a focus on Taiz. The high casualty rate has encouraged rich nations such as Saudi and UAE to withdraw their troops, and replace them with tens of thousands of mercenaries from Africa and South America.
The talks were delayed until Tuesday 15th December. Like most Yemenis, I wait with anticipation, but realistically the outcome is likely to be both sides blaming each other for the lack of breakthrough. This week more heart-breaking pictures of starving children, news that Yemen has completely run out of insulin for their 700,000 diabetics, more pictures of homeless children sleeping on the streets and children taking lessons inside broken buildings that should be demolished rather than housing children for several hours a day.
The American security company Blackwater has been named as supplying many South American mercenaries – promised fat pay cheques and residency in UAE as a carrot. Mercenaries from UK, Australia, Mexico, France and Columbia have been killed in the Yemen mountains this week. How can we hope for peace when rich companies are making money for providing weapons and ‘security’ and poor countries are making money for providing mercenaries?
Even inside Yemen, the main source of employment now is joining a militia or an army, with ten thousand Yemenis signing up to fight for the Saudi-led coalition in a new ‘Yemen’ army. For most in the more populous north, the Houthi-Saleh alliance is fighting against foreign invaders and military occupiers and winning support. For those in the south, the Houthis are the cause of the war and all the damage, and they will not accept any peace except a military victory. As for the old South Yemen that unified with North Yemen in 1990, only independence from the North will be acceptable. Most commentators agree the biggest winner in this war is Al Qaeda, now controlling huge swathes of Yemen, and imposing a very conservative agenda on the suffering population.