In case anyone has forgotten: In Yemen, there is a real war up north
by: Hassan Al-Haifi
Apparently, the “War on Terror” has sidestepped all other events in this world and all focus is on Al-Qaeda, especially since a suspected AQ peon managed to get on a plane headed for the USA with some dirty underwear. This latest escapade of AQ phobia, unsuccessful as it was, is a long way off from a number of airplanes being turned into explosive ordnances and ramming into the Wall Street Trade Center twin towers, the US Defense Ministry and the backwoods of Pennsylvania (9/11). God forbid that anything like that should find recurrence in our times or any other times. However, the question of “Has AQ lost its pants?”, is almost inescapable as a comparison of 9/11 and the “failed” post Christmas 2009 bizarre bombing attempt is forced upon the observer. Thank God, it was a failed attempt indeed. However, should all attention be diverted from real ongoing bloody encounters, in which scores of human bodies (civilians and combatants) are daily being torn to shreds, in the same country where the Nigerian bomber is alleged to have begun his long range bombing mission (the material must have been irritating to the underwear wearer on such a long journey).
Two states are currently pinned down in a futile project to eliminate a defiant adversary, who remains undefeatable despite the balance of means of the two states and this adversary tilting heavily in favor of the former. This conflict is resulting in high casualties amongst the civilian population of Yemen’s northern governorates. Many of these civilians are located far away from the “battleground” areas. It is also clear that Saudi Arabia failed in achieving its declared intention of turning back the “infiltrators” into their territory. Saudi entry in the conflict has given the once “local” conflict between the Houthi fighters and the Yemeni Government (which has managed to remain “local” for five increasingly bloody rounds) regional and international dimensions.
Recent efforts to associate the conflict in the north of Yemen to the Yemeni Government’s (and their Saudi counterpart’s) “War on Terror” are somewhat intriguing (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/expat/expatnews/6966691/Yemen-using-war-on-al-Qaeda-to-bolster-regime.html). This effort was given greater momentum at the start of 2009, when Saudi Arabia allowed some 200 of its own suspected AQ “dangerous and wanted men”, who were under the “watchful eyes of the Saudi security organs”, to momentarily escape those eyes and infiltrate to Yemen (http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/meast/02/05/starr.alqaeda.yemen/). This happened just a few months before the Yemeni Government decided to embark on a “scorched earth” campaign against the Houthis, at the behest and with all the backing and support of the Saudi Arabian Government. Is there some link between such questionable occurrences? This is apparent, especially since Saudi Arabia decided that the Al-Houthi job needs bigger and stronger boys to tackle it, as the Yemeni Government faced difficulties with its “scorched earth” effort. Of course, both the Yemeni Government and the Saudi Government, hardly consider the Al-Qaeda threat at par with the threat, which both, rightfully or wrongfully, view the Houthis as being. Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Osama Bin Laden and the home of origin of Al-Qaeda and all manifestations of Salafi/Jihadi culture. Yemen has been an incubator of such a culture for a number of decades (since the early 1970s), on behalf of, and in consort with the Saudis.
Yemen’s war with the Houhis could have probably been managed locally and dealt with in the usual manner of a few engagements on the rocky terrain of Sa’ada and then a truce. Maybe, even a peaceful way out of the seemingly relentless conflict altogether could have been worked out. But it was obvious that this was not in line with the wishes of the neighbors to the North, whether due to ideological considerations or the Saudi perceptions of the regional manifestations of the conflict. The Saudis perhaps felt that they have invested far too much in this drive to eliminate the Houthi threat to have it halted and restarted again (like the five previous rounds). They may have also overestimated their own strength and military prowess. They have unleashed the AQ factor, probably to give them ample cover for the extensive use of all their various firepower capabilities and thus blanket the tragic civilian suffering that is now being witnessed. This civilian “collateral damage” was in addition to the already disturbing high civilian casualties that the Yemeni Government was inflicting. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the United Nations and the ICRC) have all condoned the disproportionate use of force and the unnecessary civilian casualties with respect to both allies (including the direct hits on IDP camps).
Whether the AQ factor is indeed intended for this or not, both the Yemeni Government and the Saudis, individually or collectively have considerable leverage in influencing the direction of the AQ factor. Many observers contend that this factor is being used to take away public and particularly Western attention from the bloodbath in Sa’ada and surroundings, murkily projecting such tragic consequences as of the “War on Terror”. This kind of deliberate confusion was tried with the Bush Administration in the earlier rounds of the Sa’ada War. However, it appears that the former US Administration did not buy this mixed-up logic for too long.
Will the Obama Administration in the United States eventually catch on as well? The unnecessary deaths and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Yemeni civilians should not be added to those already inflicted directly or indirectly by the United States in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. The AQ factor, as dubious as it appears to be, does not justify further senseless and unreasonable suffering of helpless Yemeni citizens with the blessings of the United States, especially in a conflict that is really far away from the anytime callable “War on Terror/Al-Qaeda”.
Yemen Times Issue 1334
25 January 25, 2010