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War on Terror or War on Disaffected Yemenis?

Interventions R Us

by RON JACOBS

As if the US interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan were not enough to satiate the Empire’s bloodlust, the calls are increasing for an all-out war on the nation of Yemen. The reason given for this intervention is that the man who apparently wanted to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day 2009 spent some time there and may have received his instructions while he was visiting. Like the increasingly bloody occupation of Afghanistan, Washington wants the world to believe that attacking a nation that hosts organizations intent on resisting US domination will somehow end those organizations existence and make everyone safer. Left unsaid in this rather simplistic equation are the obvious facts. Over eight years of war and occupation of Afghanistan has neither stopped the desire of politically nor religiously motivated individuals to blow up airliners and other structures in their war against US cultural and economic imperialism. Nor has it broken the back of the groups in Afghanistan that also oppose the US intervention in their country. In fact, if we are to believe intelligence reports from various US agencies, these groups are not only still in existence, they have mutated politically and are at least as strong as they were before the US invasion in 2001.

In recent months, parts of Yemen have come under attack by Saudi Arabian forces backing the government there. In recent weeks, the Saudis have been supported by the US military. It seems quite likely that there is more to the growing likelihood of deeper US military involvement in Yemen than the visit of wannabe bomber Mr. Abdulmutallab. Saudi Arabia and North Yemen fought a war in 1934 when a prince formerly aligned with Ibn Saud switched allegiance to the Yemeni Prince King Yahya, Although Riyadh supported the Zaydi monarchist predecessors (Zaydi Imams) to the Houthi rebels in the 1962 republican revolution in North Yemen, it now supports the successors to those it opposed in 1962 (the Saleh regime). This support is religious and geopolitically based, with the Saleh government being primarily Sunni (with Wahabbist leanings) and the opposition being Shia. The fact that the conflict is primarily occurring in a province on Saudi Arabia’s borders explains Riyadh’s concerns with regard to geography. he victory of the north Yemeni forces began a period that saw increasing repression of forces opposed to Saleh, with human rights groups documenting torture, displacement and extrajudicial killings. Since the defeat of the Zaydi Imams in 1962 by the forerunners of the current Yemeni government, the northwestern province of Sa’adah has been ignored by the Yemeni regime, leaving it to founder economically. Over the years this has naturally caused resentment. By 2004, a full-blown insurgency in Sa’adah shifted the Yemeni military’s interest to this historically ignored region. This rebellion is known as the Houthi insurgency because of its leadership by dissident cleric Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi (rumored to have been killed in US and Saudi airstrikes in November 2009).

South Yemen was a colony of Britain until it achieved independence in 1967 after a struggle led by socialist revolutionaries. After North and South Yemen reunited in 1990, Saleh refused to grant the former members of the Democratic Republic of South Yemen power commensurate with their support. This fact and a desire by the Marxist former leaders of South Yemen for more progressive social policies led to civil war in 1994. Saleh’s government was backed militarily by Saudi Arabia. In 2009, renewed resistance against the Yemeni regime began in southern Yemen led by leftist-leaning forces. Yemeni military forces have met this popular uprising with overt and often violent repression.

On to all this, one must add the group that calls itself Al Qaida of Yemen (AQY). While it seems unlikely that this group (if it is truly a terrorist group and not some kind of black op) is carrying out specific orders of Bin Laden or one of the dozens of supposed Al Qaida leaders, it is reasonable to say that its members are inspired by the philosophy and actions of groups nominally known as Al Qaida. However, as far as the Yemeni regime is concerned, its existence in Yemen in the minds of Washington and the rest of the west is quite useful. After all, if the Pentagon is willing to escalate its low-scale conflict to a full fledged war in the name of fighting terrorism, than Saleh and his military can gain an advantage against the two insurgencies currently being waged against his regime. By claiming that the terrorists are either aligned with one or both of the insurgencies or are at least located in territories controlled by them, Saleh’s regime can direct US airstrikes at those areas of the country. This will most likely disrupt not only the supposed terror cells, but will also interrupt the insurgencies. If it is the Yemeni air force that conducts the raids, it will be with US weaponry that will soon be on its way. In addition, the likelihood of attacks against the insurgencies increases should the Yemen government convince the US to let them run the show (with US supervision). Naturally, military action on this scale will also kill and wound civilians, thereby increasing the likelihood of alliances between the insurgents and AQY, neatly sewing the three elements together and continuing Saleh’s continued rule. I am simultaneously reminded of Israel’s use of US weaponry and funds to subdue the Palestinians and Washington’s deal with Pakistan’s Musharraf after 9-11.

Like Afghanistan, Yemen is a very poor country. It is also somewhat unstable politically, as the above paragraphs describe. Its proximity to Saudi Arabia raises some concerns for Washington primarily because of its fear that the ideas informing the insurgencies might inspire Saudi Arabia’s disenfranchised masses and upset the oil teat America depends on. Also, like Afghanistan, it can be argued that its best promise for stability and a decent life for its citizens was when it had a socialist oriented government–a regime subverted with considerable help from the United States.

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: rjacobs3625@charter.net