As Iraq finally pries the death grip of the Islamic State off of its bloodied form, you’d think US policy would reflect the lessons learned from killing innocent civilians and destroying the basic functions of a nation. Instead, more than a decade of using drones to “target” suspected terrorists, the Trump administration has now opened the door wide for the Saudis to ramp up the carnage in Yemen.
Just as the invasion of Iraq eventually produced the Islamic State (ISIS or IS), the killing of innocent Yemenis for no moral reason at all is providing a recruitment tool for terrorist organizations throughout the Middle East and Africa. And just as the Iraq invasion was predicated on a false claim of weapons of mass destruction, the war in Yemen rests on the bogus argument that Iranians are supporting terrorism in that country. In the first two years of the conflict in Yemen, the United States was not able to point to any evidence of Iranian weapons delivery to Yemen. Yet, the United States joined with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States with weapon sales, intelligence, and a U.S.-enforced naval blockade. Trump’s recent sale of arms to the Saudis was worth $125 billion.
The results of all this has been catastrophic. Take a look at the suffering of the Yemeni people in the past few years.
Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the Arab region. It has gone through conflicts for a variety of reasons: religion, ideology, and resources. In 1990, Yemen unified, but conflicts remained. The Zaidis (a branch of Shia Islam) are located in the mountains of northern Yemen where the Houthis are the major tribe/group. The remainder of the population of the country are Sunni. In 2014, the Houthis surged south and took control of the capital, Sanaa, and most of the surrounding area. The president of the country, Abdo Rabbu Mansour Hadi, escaped to Saudi Arabia in 2015. In six months, the Saudis and Hadi formed an army and took back part of the area but not Sanaa.
The Saudi-led war against the Houthis brings together troops from Saudi Arabia, President Hadi’s supporters in the Yemeni military, Emirati countries, Islamist militants and some smaller tribes. Saudi allies are intervening to support the Hadi’s Saudi-installed puppet regime, with the United States, Britain, France, Turkey, and Belgium joining in the effort. Regional countries – Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Republic (UAE), Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Sudan – are also providing support to the Saudis.
The Saudis are not just waging war against Houthi soldiers. They are bombing hospitals, schools, medical clinics and other civic places. The Houthis, outgunned, have resorted to fighting the war with child soldiers and, more recently, using smuggled weapons from Iran.
Yemen, a country of 25 million people, has lost 10,000 lives so far in this conflict. It has also experienced widespread human rights violations and disease, and nearly half the population is in a food crisis. “There is no food, no pure water, no electricity, nothing,” a a Yemini woman says. “One day, a businessperson came to us and give us dishes and spoons but I told him sarcastically, ‘what should we do with these? Eat the soil?’”
The dire situation in Yemen has become even more severe since the recent outbreak of cholera. The lack of sanitation, clean water, and medical care are fertile ground for the spread of the disease. This current outbreak reportedly infected 269,608 people and has caused the deaths of over 1,600. This number of fatalities in Yemen due to cholera is larger than all the cholera deaths in the world in 2015, as reported by the World Health Organization.
The current civilian slaughter, chaos, and daily indignities in Yemen create the perfect recruitment tool for the expansion of terrorist organizations. Al-Qaeda has been operating in Yemen for a long time. Known as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), they are augmenting their presence with technological savvy and are now considered one of the most dangerous al-Qaeda groups. In addition, IS has begun to make their presence felt in Yemen.
The Islamic State is on the verge of defeat. But U.S. analysts, most recently Ashton Carter in a Washington Post op-ed, continue to overlook how US policies created the blowback of terrorism and entities like IS. In Yemen, the United States is repeating the same errors it made in Iraq. And the results, in terms of breeding terrorist backlash, will be the same. Until the United States learns to be more humane and severs ties with corrupt and ruthless dictators for the sake of oil or other commodity interests, this cycle will never end.