Yemen devastation backed by US & UK

by John Moore

The Saudi war in Yemen is causing a humanitarian disaster

The Saudi bombardment of Yemen, with the support of Britain and the US, has so far killed at least 10,000 civilians and made 3 million homeless. The conflict – which widened into a regional war when Saudi Arabia began bombing Yemen in a reckless bid for hegemony in the Gulf – has left 18.8 million out of Yemen's 28 million population in need of humanitarian assistance – in a country which is already the poorest in the Arab world.

Millions of Yemenis face food and water shortages. On July 12, UN figures for those going hungry stood at 7 million people, including 2.3 million children “on the cusp of famine, vulnerable to disease and ultimately at risk of a slow and painful death.”  500,000 severely malnourished children are under the age of five.

The main cause of the famine is the US navy-led blockade of Yemeni ports, a war crime in which the British government is complicit.  

Famine, water shortages and poor sanitation have led to a cholera epidemic – over 332,600 cases to date, according to the World Health Organisation, with 1,800 dead. The International Committee of the Red Cross reports 7,000 new cases a day, making this the worst cholera outbreak in the world.  Predictions are that the disease will infect 600,000 by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, due to the war only 45% of Yemen’s hospitals are functioning,

So far the British government denies any culpability for the destruction of Yemen, apart from an admission that “a limited number” of the British cluster bombs have been used in the war.  Yet British military personnel operate in the Saudi command centre, along with the CIA, for the purpose of selecting bombing targets. Britain also selects targets for the US-led drone programme. This targeting is deliberately aimed at hitting civilian centres – to the extent that the British Ministry of Defence has tried to provide cover by running workshops for the Saudis on “targeting guidance.” 

Theresa May has defended the close link between Britain and Saudi Arabia.  On her visit to Riyadh this April, she said: “It is in our national interest to ensure that the values that underpin us as Britons are values that we promote around the world.”

The High Court supported the government’s line. In July, it rejected a Campaign Against the Arms Trade case arguing that British-Saudi arms sales used against civilians are illegal. 

But opposition to the Saudi war, and Britain’s role in it, is growing. Shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner told parliament in July that indiscriminate bombing of civilians and the targeting of food production amount to war crimes.  62% of British people now oppose arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

And in the US, the Senate only narrowly agreed a sale of $510 million guided weapons to the Saudis, against almost unanimous Democrat opposition.

The Saudi war on Yemen has been raging for almost two and a half years. The mainly Shia Houthis still control most of the north of the country and hold the capital San’a – in spite of the killing of many of their military leaders. Supported by ex-president Saleh and by Iran, they are fighting several Saudi-backed forces grouped around the figurehead of another ex-president, Hadi, who is in exile in Riyadh. In broad terms, they represent part of the bloc – Iran, Hezbollah, Syria – standing in the way of imperialist control of the Middle East.

Meanwhile, the Saudi war coalition is in danger of breaking up. With the war having reached stalemate, the invading countries are pulling in different directions. The UAE has used the conflict to install itself permanently in southern Yemen, with plans to partition and rule Hadramaut province. It has also switched support from Hadi to Saleh, according to Intelligence Online, putting itself at odds with the Saudis and Qatar, despite the latter having been excluded from the war coalition in June. Oman, which has stayed out of the war, also opposes the UAE’s overweening approach. 

Meanwhile, Qatari support for the Muslim Brotherhood Islah party in Yemen, as well as for the thriving Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP), has fed into the wider Gulf quarrel between Qatar and the Saudis (as well as the UAE).  Overall, the war has intensified the splits within the GCC, which may never heal.

The lack of progress in the long and expensive war represents a failure for the Saudis. The conflict is costing them $700 million a month. With the depressed price for oil, the effect on the Saudi economy is severe and recession looms.

The failure to win has also damaged Saudi credibility as a military power, and its war crimes, though under-reported, are nevertheless damaging its reputation. 

The Saudi bid for dominance over the Gulf is faltering. Its Yemen disaster – on top of its failed blockade of Qatar – could prove a turning point.  


" the main cause of the famine is the US navy-led blockade of Yemeni ports, a war crime in which the British government is complicit....British military personnel operate in the Saudi command centre, along with the CIA, for the purpose of selecting bombing targets for the US-led drone programme."