Understanding the US-backed Genocide in Yemen

The mounting casualties in Yemen are drawing world attention. According to ACLED (Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project), a hundred thousand people have lost their lives due to the conflict between the Saudi and UAE Coalition and the Houthi Rebels. 

Throughout the twenty-first century, the Middle East has been the site of countless humanitarian disasters. The US invasion of Iraq in 2003 was followed by further military interventions including the destabilization of Libya, the Syrian Civil War, and war in Yemen. The unrest in Libya, Syria, and Yemen began between 2011 to 2015. (New Middle East, Danahar). The leaders of the Western world have been militarily and fiscally supporting a brutal war against the Houthi rebels due to economic and political interests. 

During the aftermath of the Iraq War, Chelsea Manning released thousands of cables and logs concerning the Iraq War, exposing US war crimes, specifically the Collateral Murder Video and Guantanamo Bay files (Wikileaks). More importantly, Manning released 251,287 intercepted diplomatic government cables between the US and various Middle Eastern nations. These nations included Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Morocco, Bahrain and others. (Middle East Eye). These cables highlighted the US’ role in turning a blind eye to rampant corruption in these countries, in exchange for economic and political support. (Business Insider). Chelsea Manning was imprisoned and charged with the espionage act among others. Eventually, President Obama pardoned her, but she was jailed again in 2019, for refusing to testify against Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks. (NYTimes, Fortin)

The protests began in Tunisia. Details of the rampant corruption, excess, and nepotism as well as President Ben Ali’s ability to violate the law with impunity. A section of the released cable warns “although the petty corruption rankles, it is the excesses of President Ben Ali’s family that inspire outrage among Tunisians. With Tunisians facing rising inflation and high unemployment, the conspicuous displays of wealth and persistent rumors of corruption have added fuel to the fire.” (Wikileaks). On December 17, 2010, a fruit vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in protest against police harassment and corruption in the justice system. Protests sparked immediately. 

More protesters took to the streets, and continuing outrage contributed to President Ben Ali’s resignation. (New Middle East, Danahar). Tunisia has remained a functioning democracy with freedom of speech ever since. However, massive economic inequality and disparity remains a problem to this day. (World Inequality Database). Empowered by this success, protest movements all over the Arab world demanded an end to authoritarianism and corruption. Protests in Egypt and Morocco had similar successes, with President Mubarak resigning and King Mohammed VI announced constitutional reforms. The media dubbed the mass uprising in the Middle East the “Arab Spring.” Nearly every single Arab country in the Middle East was strongly affected, prominently Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain. (New Middle East, Danahar) 

The Arab Winter describes the rise of renewed fundamentalism, terrorist organizations, and extreme authoritarianism across the Arab World. Protests in Libya and Syria had covert US, UK, and French political and fiscal support, as revealed by intercepted Wikileaks cables. Libya dissolved into complete civil war, and Muammar Gaddafi was brutally murdered by protestors. Unable to form a government, Libya dissolved into anarchy and perpetual war. Recently, the reveal of slavery has been made public, and over fifty thousand people have been killed in the violence ensuring. (Time, Quackenbush). To this day, Libya is in a state of civil war. (Washington Post, Raghavan). 

Protests in Syria became extremely violent, as Bashar al-Assad cracked down on them, ordering the military to kill protestors. Syria entered a massive civil war, between the Assad government, ISIS, Al-Nusra Front, Kurdish militias, and as of October, 2019, the Turkish government. (Washington Post, DeYoung). War crimes have been committed on all sides, and over five hundred thousand people have been killed in the conflict. (UNICEF). In Egypt, the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 resulted in the rise of a democratically elected Islamist president named Mohamed Morsi, affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. After serving for a year in office, massive protests over Morsi’s disregard of previous secular policy, resulted in a coup by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Al-Sisi is substantially more brutal than Mubarak, using civilian massacres and torture of journalists and dissidents to consolidate power. (NYTimes, Walsh). Nonetheless, none of these crises were as brutal as the ongoing civil war in Yemen.

The political turmoil in Yemen began as a direct result of the Arab Spring. Yemen was the most corrupt and poorest country in the Middle East. Yemen nationalized its hydrocarbon resources in 2005, seizing oil assets from Hunt Oil and ExxonMobil affiliates. Hunt Oil Company discovered oil in Yemen in 1984 and opened a refinery, authorized by then-Vice President George HW Bush in 1986. After world oil prices had plummeted in the early 1980s, Saudi Arabia and the US signed a secret agreement to prevent Yemen from independently developing its own oil and gas reserves. This was intended to stabilize prices and keep Yemen’s resources and marketing under US control through its Saudi partner. (CounterPunch, Dresser).  

Even though Yemen has vast resources, the Yemeni people were plagued by poverty. Yemen has a high birth rate, high rates of child malnutrition and increasing scarcity of oil and water (Chatham House). In 2012, massive protests forced the authoritarian President Ali Abdullah Saleh out of power, and his vice president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi was selected. Militant attacks, corruption, and economic insecurity damaged Yemeni support for Hadi’s government. (Wikileaks, “Yemen Files”)

Western Media portrays the conflict in Yemen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and a conflict between Sunni and Shia Islam. The Houthi Movement has been compared to Hezbollah in Lebanon, as an Iranian proxy (Hilterman, Foreign Policy). Western media appears to encourage increasing conflict with Iran. Evidence and history show that some of these claims are misleading. 

Once part of the Ottoman Empire, Yemen, as a nation, is a recent development. After the Ottoman Empire’s collapse, the region now called Yemen was divided into the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen in the South and the Yemen Arab Republic in the North. From 1967 to 1990, during the Cold War, South Yemen was led by a Marxist government allied with the Soviet Union. North Yemen was ruled by a nationalist government allied with Saudi Arabia. A nationalist from the North, Ali Abdullah Saleh, united South Yemen with North Yemen after the Eastern Bloc collapsed. An influx of Saudi and Emirati investment entered South Yemen because the gulf states sought to expand their market presence. Wahhabism is the extremist fundamentalist form of Sunni Islam practiced by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. To spread Wahhabism, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States provided financial and political support for charities, schools, madrassas, and other institutions in South Yemen. Saudi Arabia sent its own clerics to spread Wahhabi philosophy. As a result, the South Yemeni population became more conservative as more people attended madrassas. In the north, the grassroots Houthi movement emerged in the community of Zaidi Muslims to resist Saudi influence and Wahhabism. As the Houthi movement began resisting Yemen’s Saudi-allied central government, it became increasingly political throughout the early 2000s. (Tribes and Politics in Yemen: A History of the Houthi Conflict, Brandt)

The Houthis, who refer to themselves as Ansar Allah or Ansarullah, preached against oppression and corruption. The Houthis furiously condemned the US invasion of Iraq and the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. They adopted the revolutionary Iranian slogan, “Death to America, Death to Israel.” The Houthi movement was inspired by a Zaidi leader named Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, who was part of the Al-Haqq political party in 2004. This party supported South Yemeni separatism, resulting in al-Houthi’s exile and his attempts at reforming a new political organization. He was eventually killed by the Yemeni government, along with some of his supporters. His actions motivated Yemeni Muslims—Sunni, Zaidi, and Shia alike—to begin massive political protests. (A History of Modern Yemen, Dresch).

In 2014, civil war broke out between the Houthi rebels in the North and President Hadi’s government from the South. Between 2014 and 2015, the Houthis gradually took control of Sana’a, Yemen’s capital. Hadi fled the country in 2015. He is currently in exile in Saudi Arabia. The former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was killed by the Houthis in 2017. (Guardian, Wintour). 

A military coalition led by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates began bombing North Yemen in March 2015, with a mission to restore President Hadi. Saudi Arabia imposed its blockade over North Yemen, shortly after revolutionary forces took control of Sana’a. The land, air, and sea blockades restrict imports and exports, as well as vital resources including food and medicine from entering the country. The Saudi-led coalition receives assistance from the US, UK, and France, while the Houthis are allied politically with Iran, Hezbollah and the Syrian Government. This is a detriment to US interests in the region, as Yemen’s strategic geographic location requires a force in the region positive to American interests. Three to four million barrels of oil, and between two-thirds and three-quarters of all trade ships, travel through the Mandab Strait, known as Bab al-Mandab, in southwest Yemen.  The US and Saudi Arabia wants to keep this portion open for foreign investment. (Counterpunch, Dresser)

Wikileaks revealed evidence of the United States’ involvement, including arming, training and financing South Yemeni forces in the buildup to the current war. The “Yemen Files”  available on Wikileaks reveal US diplomatic cables from 2009 to 2015. These files detail how the Yemeni government received military hardware from the US, including aircraft, vehicles and vessels, as well as US biometric systems. The US uses the 2001 Congressional Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF) as a legal justification to combat against AQAP (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) and ISIS. Since 2015, the US has been assisting the Saudi-led coalition with target spotting, intelligence sharing, and (until November 2018) in-flight refueling of coalition aircraft. Many of the bombs used on Yemeni civilians are supplied by the US, including the bomb which killed 40 Yemeni schoolchildren on a school bus during an airstrike on August 9, 2018. Examination of bomb fragments revealed that it was manufactured by Lockheed Martin. President Trump’s justification for US involvement in the Yemen war is the need to maintain US arms sales to the Saudis (NYTimes, Edward Wong). Munitions and weapons manufactured by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin are extremely profitable and are used to maintain the US Petrodollar system. 

Wikileaks said that the war in Yemen was largely strategic, with the country sitting at an important “narrow choke point” for oil trade passing through the Middle East. “Saudi Arabia seeks to control a port in Yemen to avoid the potential constriction of its oil shipments by Iran along the Strait of Hormuz or by countries which can control its other oil shipment path along the Red Sea,” according to Wikileaks memos. Yemen contains massive undeveloped oil and gas reserves, as well as four billion barrels of proven reserves. In 2002, a US Geological Survey report identified substantial oil and gas deposits in Yemen and beneath its territorial waters in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. According to a leaked December 2008 State Department cable, the Obama administration and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were aware of Yemen’s substantial resources. 

Through Yemeni economist Hasan al-Sanaeri’s report, Saudi Arabia wants to have regional control of Yemen. To achieve economic domination, Saudi Arabia supports Hadi’s government primarily because Hadi supports the construction of a canal from Yemen to the Arabian Sea. The purpose of this canal is to bypass the Hormuz Strait, Persian Gulf, and Bab al-Mandab strait into the Red Sea, which would allow increased shipment of oil. Three and a half million barrels of oil pass daily en route to Europe and North America through the Suez Canal. With this canal, they can avoid the need to negotiate with countries in conflict, such as Iran. (Counterpunch, Jack Dresser). The Saudis also want to avoid an Iran-allied government in Yemen that could give Iran control over both straits. The US and Israel joined forces in supporting Saudi Arabia to defend the strait against Iranian control. (The Intercept, Emmons). 

To ensure Western dominance, the US government needs to protect the petrodollar— why the US is involved in Yemen. The petrodollar is currently yielding to China’s increasing influence. China’s 86-member Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and China’s One Belt-One Road project threaten the Eurocentric global order. The 1973 OPEC agreements to denominate oil sales in US dollars have kept the dollar on top of the global financial system and fuel the Saudi leaders’ power base. (SCMP, Lew). Two of the three largest oil producers, Iran and Venezuela, have broken away from OPEC restraints. Joining Russia as major producers outside the US sphere of influence, they are trading in alternative currencies. To respond, the US has waged economic warfare upon these two countries with extremely harsh sanctions. Oil supplies will eventually deplete in the Arabian Peninsula. North America’s deposits are too expensive to extract and refine competitively. The victor of the Yemeni conflict would possess the world’s last major undeveloped oil supply, potentially a third of current world reserves—why the US is supporting the Saudi’s intervention in the Yemeni civil war.

Since 2015, at least a hundred thousand Yemenis have been killed from airstrikes, starvation, or cholera. More than ten million Yemeni civilians face starvation. These numbers are multiplying, as evidence has shown that Saudi Arabia is targeting food and water supplies, as well as hospitals and medical supplies. (World Health Organization). The World Health Organization said that from the beginning of 2019, nearly 109,000 cases of severe acute watery diarrhea and suspected cholera had been reported, caused nearly 200 deaths. A third of the reported cases affecting children under age 5. The cholera outbreak can be traced back to Saudi Arabia’s direct targeting of water supplies and hospitals. The Saudi coalition has used “Double-Tap” airstrikes by targeting first responders, ambulance crews, rescuers, and media personnel entering the scene. The casualties in this struggle are innocent men, women and children starved or killed, victims of war crimes. (Geopolitics Alert, Nord)

Alex de Waal, Executive Director of the World Peace Foundation, describes Yemen as “the greatest famine atrocity of our lifetimes” caused by the Coalition “deliberately destroying the country’s food-producing infrastructure.” Over the last four years, coalition air attacks have deliberately targeted civilian residences and common areas. In 2016, 155 people who were attending a funeral and 97 locals at a market were massacred. The attacks on Yemen’s infrastructure and supply blockades created unlivable conditions in Yemen, causing incomprehensible levels of malnutrition, the spread of disease, famine and death. (Genocide in Yemen-Is the West Complicit?, Harold Taves). According to the UN Panel of Experts on Yemen, “The blockade is essentially using the threat of starvation as a bargaining tool and an instrument of war.” Against alleged terrorists associated with Al Qaeda or Daesh, the US have also contributed with drone strikes and extrajudicial killings within Yemen. These drone strikes disproportionately target Yemeni civilians. The Long War Journal estimates the number of drones used between 2009 to 2018 as 334. Allegedly, 1300 to 1800 Yemeni were killed. 

Yemen relies on imports for 75% of its food, and the blockade has cut off desperately needed food and medicines. International aid group Save the Children has determined that as many as 85,000 children may have died from starvation and disease. More than 50,000 child deaths from hunger and related causes were recorded in 2017 alone (NYTimes, de Waal). In Yemen, at least 17.8 million are food insecure and require urgent humanitarian assistance. 9.4 million are in an immediate crisis. 8.4 million are on the brink of famine (World Bank). The number of Yemenis facing pre-famine conditions, meaning they are entirely reliant on external aid for survival, could soon reach 14 million. That is more than half of the entire population (UNOCHA). The UN has called Yemen the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis.” 

The Saudi Coalition has also directly attacked medical facilities and impedes their ability to function. By March 2016, as many as 600 facilities had stopped operating because they were damaged and lacked electricity, fuel, and personnel. More than 100 facilities were reported partially or completely destroyed. In September 2017, the World Health Organization reported that only 45 percent of health facilities in Yemen were functional or partly functional. Among these hospitals, only 35 percent provide maternal and newborn services (Human Rights Watch). 

Several past attempts at peace talks have failed, largely because the US, UK, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE will not tolerate an independent government that allied with Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah (Foreign Affairs, Malley). In December 2018 there was a slight breakthrough, with the signing of the Stockholm agreement. But these provisions only delivered a partial ceasefire, and deadlines for the accord have already been missed — while US-Saudi airstrikes have unceasingly continued. After four years, there is still no end in sight to the war. 

Saudi Arabia’s War in Yemen Has Failed
Saudi Arabia’s endless war in Yemen. Credit: AFP PHOTO

Within the US congress, there is a movement to end the war in Yemen. Senators Bernie Sanders and Mike Lee and Representatives Ro Khanna and Matt Gaetz led a bipartisan resolution to end military involvement, using the War Powers Act. The resolution passed by 54 votes in the Senate and 247 votes in the House, only to be vetoed by President Trump. “This resolution is an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities, endangering the lives of American citizens and brave service members, both today and in the future,” Trump said in his message, as it apparently undermined his own authority. The true reasoning behind this, however, are Trump’s own connections to Saudi Arabia. 

In 2016, the New York Daily News reported that the Saudi government made a purchase in June 2001 of the entire 45th floor of the Trump World Tower for $4.5 million. The Saudis also paid Trump $5.7 million for various fees over time, between 2001 and 2016. The Washington Post reported in August, 2018, that a visit from Saudi officials to the Trump International Hotel in New York City helped boost the hotel’s quarterly revenue by 13%. According to a letter obtained by the Post in which the manager of the Trump hotel cited “a last-minute visit to New York by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia,” this financial bump came after two years of booking decline. Between October 2016 and March 2017 a lobbying firm connected to the Saudi government paid $270,000 to the Trump International Hotel in Washington DC. These are just a few examples to illustrate President Trump’s ties to the Saudi Arabian Government. In lieu of personal financial interests, President Trump cannot support a bill that would prohibit arms sales to Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen (Business Insider). This appears to be a violation of the Emoluments clause and an impeachable offense.

In September of 2019, the Houthi rebels used drone strikes against Saudi oil fields, damaging processing facilities of the country’s crude oil refineries. American and Saudi officials suspect that Iran has dispatched technicians to Yemen to supply the Houthis with drone and missile technology. Iran has denied this allegation. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of being behind “an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply” and asserted that there was “no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.” (NYTimes, Hubbard). In response, President Trump sent weapons and 1800 military forces to Saudi Arabia to defend their oil fields, to heighten the possibility of a war with Iran. This is part of a pattern of increased conflict between the US and Iran. This conflict has been building up since the withdrawal of the Iranian Nuclear Agreement in May 2018. Aside from having military presence in Syria and Yemen, the US has also sanctioned food and medicine from Iran. (NYTimes, Wong).

According to a Saudi citizen currently living in Riyadh, the Saudi Arabian capital, the heavily government-influenced media accuses the Houthis of receiving Iranian military support, describing the rebels as “Crypto-Persians,” holding Yemeni Arabs hostage. By using this narrative, Saudi Arabia’s government does not need to present evidence of Iran arming the Houthis because they are allegedly ethnically Iranian. (Mintpress, Nord). With this allegation, Saudi Arabia can portray itself as the “Arab Savior” rescuing Arab Yemenis from Crypto-Persians. Contrary to this narrative, the Houthi movement is a broad revolutionary uprising, with several Islamic sects and ethnic groups united under one banner of resistance to foreign interference, including Sunni and Shia muslims alike. This crypto-Persian narrative is baseless propaganda, since the Coalition’s airstrikes and economic blockade does not discriminate among religious sects or political leanings. The Coalition directly attacks civilians and destroys Yemeni cultural heritage. Raphael Lemkin described genocide as the attempted destruction of a nation or ethnic group. Physical, biological, and cultural are three commonly recognized dimensions used to describe such events. Since the Coalition’s attacks on life and culture in Yemen represent all the elements of Lemkin’s description of genocidal methods—physical, biological, and cultural, it is clear that the conflict in Yemen is not only a military intervention, but an act of genocide, resulting in the systematic starvation of over ten million people and deaths of over a hundred thousand Yemeni civilians.


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