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Proletarian issue 34 (Februrary 2010)
­The US-backed bombing of Yemen
Obama seeks to extend US dominance to Yemen, under the familiar pretext of the ‘war on terror’.
In August 2009, the government of Yemen, backed by Saudi Arabia, commenced an offensive that many would describe as genocidal against a long-standing rebellion in the north of the country, where the majority of the people subscribe to the Zaydi faith. The government has vowed not to discontinue this offensive until the rebellion is wiped out. It has forced over 100,000 people to flee their homes.

Internal dissension in Yemen

At bottom, the reason for the rebellion is the total failure of the Yemeni government to provide the basic necessities of life to the masses of people. Yemen is a country where no less than a third of the population suffers from malnutrition.

Indeed, it is not only the areas with Zaydi majorities in the north of the country that are revolting against central government, but also the south, which was annexed to the north in 1990, having previously been the Arab world’s only socialist country.

The annexation brought little, if any, economic improvement to the people of the south. Because the population in the south is rather smaller than in the north, it ended up with little representation in, or influence over, the nominally ‘elected’ Yemeni government, which it turn could only maintain itself in power by brutal suppression of human rights.

Interestingly, part of the reason why the south became so alienated from central government within a short time of the unification of Yemen in 1990 was because the US, which had been an ardent supporter of a Yemeni reunification that spelled the end of the socialist republic in South Yemen, withdrew the aid it had promised in a fit of pique over a Yemeni UN vote against authorising force to eject Iraqi troops from Kuwait.

‘That was the most expensive vote you will have cast,’ a US State Department official told the Yemeni ambassador. An aid budget of $22m that had been promised to help unification was cut to less than $3m. Worse still, the Saudis – who had backed the US-led attack on Iraq – took revenge by expelling 800,000 Yemeni migrant workers who had been earning remittances to send back home. Now unemployed, the expelled workers made a sizeable impact on the country’s then population of 11.6 million.

Not surprisingly, regional tensions broke out again, heightened by fighting over scarce resources, leading to a civil war in 1994.” (‘Yemen: taking another beating from the West’ by James Heartfield, Spiked, 11 January 2010)

Considering that Yemen has been enjoying a substantial income from the sale of its oil, the fact that a third of its population is malnourished, 40 percent are unemployed, desertification is advancing inexorably, there is a permanent and acute water shortage, and large parts of the country have no electricity or running water, necessarily condemns the government as incompetent at very least. Although Yemen has up to now had a good income from the sale of its oil, this has been under the control of imperialist companies, with the result that the people of Yemen have not benefited to any significant extent.

On the contrary, much of the oil wealth that remained in the country was spent on imports from imperialist concerns that undercut local produce in price, thereby bankrupting local producers both industrial and agricultural. Consequently, Yemen is today one of the poorest countries in the world. To make matters worse, the oil is expected to run out in seven years, with the resultant loss of 70-90 percent of Yemeni export earnings.

In these circumstances, it is not surprising that there are both national-bourgeois and proletarian elements who believe that Yemen’s regime should be removed in order to make way for a superior economic order. ‘Democratic’ elections are periodically held in Yemen, but the regime is able to ensure, through its powers of patronage and repression, that these elections never upset the status quo.

Therefore, as things stand, only successful armed struggle against the regime will be able to overthrow it. In the north of the country, in the Sa’ada province, where the majority of the population adheres to Zaydi Islam, it is said that the nationalist forces combating the Yemeni regime hark back to the time before 1962 when Yemen was ruled by a Zaydi imamate.

Nevertheless, the nationalist movement is strongly anti-imperialist and anti-zionist. If and to the extent that they seek to impose a Zaydi islamic government, however, they would not be able to mobilise the non-Zaydi masses, who comprise nearly 60 percent of the Yemeni population as a whole.

In the south, the nationalist movement is secessionist, with Marxists and nationalists having united in struggle against the Yemeni regime.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula

Under pressure from the Saudi regime, hundreds – if not thousands – of opponents of the Saudi regime have moved south across the Saudi-Yemen border and, having joined forces with their counterparts in the Yemen, and in January 2009 rebranded themselves as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). As a result of this merger, they present a formidable threat to Saudi Arabian and US interests in the region.

Successive US regimes have put pressure on the Yemeni government to crack down on bases run by AQAP and its predecessors, and on the people who run them, but they have met with limited success. President Obama is bristling with determination to eliminate them, convinced that they are the key to the successes of the Afghan resistance against the mighty Nato military machine – just as previously he was convinced that the key lay in Taliban bases in Pakistan.

According to Mark Landler, writing in the New York Times of 9 January, “Administration officials said they focused on Yemen as a hothouse for Islamic terrorism from the day President Obama took office.” (‘US has few resources to face threats in Yemen’)

It has never, however, been all that easy for the Yemeni government to move against these bases.

The first reason for this is that the central government in Yemen has very little authority, and very few means of imposing its will. Most of the country is governed by local tribal authority rather than by central government, and if the local tribes are happy with the presence of jihadist training centres in their midst there is no reason for them to take any notice of instructions from central government that they should be disbanded.

Even more important is the fact that, from time to time the Yemeni government has found it convenient to make an alliance with them in its fight against the rebels in the south, whom they categorise as Marxists and also against the Zaydi shia nationalist movement:

According to Steven Erlanger, writing in the New York Times, “President Saleh has been encouraging a radical sunni islamist group to help fight the shiite Houthi rebellion in the north. Some analysts say they believe that movement is also feeding the support for al-Qaeda. Mr Saleh has also used jihadis who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq against the Houthis, as he used some of them to fight in the south during the country’s 1994 civil war.” (‘Yemen’s chaos aids the evolution of a Qaeda cell’, 3 January 2010)

An important Saudi jihadist leader, Mohammed Bin Abdul al-Rashid, is said to have posted an audio communication on the internet – although this may not be genuine – accusing shias and Iran of “wanting to annihilate the sunnis” and announcing that “shias are for sunnis an even greater danger than jews and christians”.

In any event, it cannot be denied that jihadi elements have been crucial allies of the central government, helping it to maintain its tenuous grip on power, as a result of which the Yemeni government, for all its subservient nature, has always been reluctant to obey US imperialism’s orders to sweep out ‘al-Qaeda’ bases from Yemen and arrest jihadi leaders.

Yemeni government dependent on funding from Saudi Arabia and the US

It would seem that this reluctance has now been overcome. The reason is not hard to find:

With oil revenues down, Mr Saleh [the Yemeni president] has had to turn to outside allies to help finance the war in the north. Saudi Arabia provided $2bn last year to make up for the budget shortfall – an amount that dwarfs the $150m in security assistance that the United States will ask Congress to approve for the 2010 fiscal year.” (‘In Yemen, US faces leader who puts family first’ by Steven Erlanger, New York Times, 5 January 2010)

Furthermore, according to USA Today, “The newly aggressive Yemeni campaign against al-Qaeda is being boosted by a dose of American aid, a reflection of Washington’s concerns about al-Qaeda’s presence in a highly strategic location on the border with oil-rich US-ally Saudi Arabia.

The Pentagon recently confirmed it has poured nearly $70m in military aid into Yemen this year – compared with none in 2008.” (‘Yemen strikes al-Qaeda chiefs in US-aided assault’, 24 December 2009)

In addition, in September last year, and quite apart from increased military aid, the United States signed an agreement with the Yemeni government for a three-year, $120m ‘stabilisation programme’, supposedly devised to create jobs and improve health and other public services rapidly.

In other words, the fact of the matter is that the Yemeni government literally cannot afford to do anything other than to take instructions from the US and Saudi Arabia.

The air raids

Anxious to eliminate these bases from Yemen, the Saudi Arabian air force has, along with Yemeni forces, been involved since November in bombing raids on villages in the province of Sa’ada. According to Houthi sources, the US Air Force has also taken part in these raids. The US government itself is prepared to admit that it provided both intelligence information and firepower to the Yemeni government in order to facilitate the raids.

On 15 December, there were some 20 air raids that killed about 120 people, injuring many more. According to the imperialist media, the targets of the raids were ‘al-Qaeda’, on the feeble and hardly credible pretext that they were organisers of the Fort Hood killings. (See ‘Afghanistan: occupation not corruption is the real problem’, Proletarian, December 2009)

Undoubtedly, however, at least some of the raids were targeting Houthi and southern insurgents who cannot by any stretch of the imagination come within even the grotesquely extended definition of what US imperialism refers to as ‘al-Qaeda’. One can only assume that the only way that imperialism could overcome Yemeni government reluctance to act against ‘al-Qaeda’ was by agreeing to assist in quelling the Houthi and southern insurgency also. For propaganda purposes, all of them are lumped together in imperialist media reports as ‘al-Qaeda’.

For good measure, the Houthi insurgents have been characterised by the Yemeni government as effectively under the control of the Iranian regime (because they are all shias) in order to stimulate both US imperialism and the Saudis to provide assistance in the task of eliminating them.

At the end of October, the Yemeni government claimed to have intercepted a ship bringing armaments to the Houthi rebels that was manned by five Iranians. The Iranian government denies this.

The whole idea that the Iranian government (which adheres to so-called ‘twelver’ shiism – recognising 12 specific imams – and the concept of the ‘hidden imam’) could control Yemeni Zaydi shias (who do not recognise the legitimacy of the fifth imam or the concept of the ‘hidden imam’, and who are a great deal more amenable to sunni doctrine than their Iranian counterparts) is laughable. If, however, it provides Saudi Arabia and its US imperialist puppet masters with an excuse for targeting women and children in areas where Houthis operate, under the pretence that they are targeting ‘al-Qaeda’, then, sure, anything goes!

Further air attacks took place on 24 December, when Yemeni government forces hit bases in Abyan, a mountainous area in the south of the country, as well as in the city of Arhab and in the capital, Sana.

Failed attempt to blow up airliner

Then, on Christmas Day, a Nigerian citizen boarded an aircraft in Holland bound for Detroit and allegedly tried to blow it up, causing himself a great deal more damage than was in the event caused to the aircraft. It is doubtful if the explosives he carried were even capable of bringing down the plane if they had actually been detonated.

This is how this matter was reported in the New York Times:

In an affidavit filed in support of the criminal charges, the authorities said that Mr Abdulmutallab had tried to ignite a device, which was attached to his body, resulting ‘in a fire and what appears to have been an explosion’.

The affidavit said the device contained PETN, also known as pentaerythritol, a highly explosive substance that was used in 2001 by Richard C Reid, the so-called shoe bomber, whose attempt to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight was also thwarted. Officials said analysis of the remnants of Mr Abdulmutallab’s device was being carried out by the FBI laboratory, but it was possible that had the chemical mixture detonated, it might have brought down the aircraft.” (‘Officials point to suspect’s claim of Qaeda ties in Yemen’ by Eric Schmitt and Eric Lipton [our emphasis])

This particular explosive is easily detectible. Even the imperialist media expressed astonishment at how this person was able to evade security checks – apparently his name had been put on a US database called the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment at least a month previously.

Conveniently for US imperialism’s plans to extend their aggression in the direction of Yemen, “Mr Abdulmutallab told FBI agents he was connected to the Qaeda affiliate, which operates largely in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, by a radical Yemeni cleric whom he contacted online ...
In a statement, the Yemeni Embassy in Washington said: ‘We have yet to receive official information on the incident. If and when the would-be bomber’s alleged link to Yemen is officially identified, authorities will take immediate action.’
If corroborated, Mr Abdulmutallab’s travel to Yemen for terrorist instruction and explosives underscores the emergence of that country as a major hub for al-Qaeda, perhaps beginning to rival the terror network’s base in Pakistan.” (Ibid)

This ‘corroboration’ is, of course, a foregone conclusion! However, at the moment, the whole incident of the alleged attempt to blow up the airliner is shrouded in mystery, with bits of misinformation fed by the US intelligence services to the compliant media in an attempt to establish connection between the young Nigerian and AQAP, thus manipulating public opinion as a precursor to the intensification of the US war against the people of Yemen.

In other words, Abdulmutallab’s alleged attempt is being used as ‘justification’ for raining further death and destruction on innocent civilians in Yemen. On 15 January, a further bombing – of which very little detail has been given – was effected by Yemeni forces in the north of the country close to the Saudi border, in which five important ‘al-Qaeda’ leaders were claimed to have been killed, although this has been denied by AQAP.

If there was ‘collateral damage’ in the form of civilian deaths and destruction of people’s homes and crops – which there usually is in these bombing raids – the news media are completely silent on this point. Further bombings can be expected.

The important leaders of the insurgency that the bombings are supposed to have killed have for the most part turned up alive and well, but the inevitable deaths among innocent women and children that the bombing of villages entails will certainly fuel sympathy for the rebels throughout the area and, as in Pakistan, drive thousands of recruits into the ranks of those prepared to wage war against imperialism. Moreover, in the case of Yemen, the raids are likely to ensure that anti-imperialist movements of every hue – shia, sunni and secular – are able to overcome their differences in order to unite in this fight to the death against imperialism.

The New York Times has been quick to realise that US support for the Yemeni regime is only going to cause trouble for US imperialism. It quotes a Yemeni academic, Abdullah al-Faqih, warning that “Mr Saleh must seek political ways to calm the rebellions or risk creating even more recruits for al-Qaeda. The war against the Houthis is pushing them toward some kind of alliance with al-Qaeda, despite religious differences, much as shiite Iran backs the sunni Hamas movement in Gaza.” (‘Yemen’s chaos aids the evolution of a Qaeda cell’, op cit)

By escalating the ‘war against terror’, ie, the war to control the oil resources of the Middle East and their channels of distribution, to yet another country, imperialism is working inexorably towards its own defeat.
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