12 June 2019

Yemen- the place death falls out from the sky

Claudiu Nebunu

The war in Yemen (or world’s “Forgotten war”) continues… fights over fights under daily air raids conducted by Saudi Arabia’s Coalition… Bombs do not make a difference between militaries, civils or kids … It seems that not even attack’s coordinators do not make that difference (or do they?)… Victims’ number increases day by day, the situation gets worse and no realistic solution is on the horizon. Air raids get blamed, however, they continue… Armament exports towards Saudi Arabia and UAE get blamed, still, they continue… Terrorists, mainly Al-Qaida, take advantage on the situation… but there are many rivalries in this world of terror, and the confrontations with the Islamic State are more and more visible on the Yemeni territory… Although the international scene recognized them, the president and the prime-minister fail ruling… Even if the Houthi rebels are blamed by the international scene, they seem to make governance work…

Image source: Mediafax

The opening act…

The war in Yemen, the poorest Arab state, started back in 2014, when Houthi rebels took over Sana’s capital’s control and deployed offensive actions towards the South, trying to get also the control over Aden, the city the Yemeni authorities took refuge in. Concerned with the possible evolution towards a greater uprising, Saudi Arabia created an Arab Coalition, which started a massive air campaign to support the governmental forces and reinstate president Adb-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s regime.

The Arab Coalition executed, since 26th of March 2015, more than 19.000 air raids over the areas controlled by Houthi rebels trying to get back the territories lost by the pro-governmental forces. The attacks targeted religious ceremonies, schools and hospitals, water and electric energy transport and fabrication infrastructure elements, causing thousands of civil victims.

Yemen is now divided between the pro-governmental forces that are controlling the South and country’s heart and the rebellious forces that are controlling Sana’s capital and part of West of the country (where the port-city Al-Hudaydah is).

Regional powers’ intervention (Saudi Arabia, Iran) which are now in conflict may lead the country to a larger Sunni-Shiite division. Also, the fights continue to make many victims, making Yemen be one of the most serious humanitarian crisis in the world.

Economy’s collapse due to war and, implicitly, inflation, pushed the population to starvation and poverty, the ones to suffer the most being the kids. Governmental forces’ offensive over Al-Hudaydah, which are supported by Arab Coalition’s raids, has worsened the humanitarian situation, raising awareness among the international actors. 70% of rebels’ goods enter through the Al-Hudaydah city (mostly humanitarian goods, food and fuels). According to Saudis, the port generated incomes worth of around 30-40 million dollars, funds that get used by rebels to get guns and munition from Iran.

The humanitarian agencies helping Yemen have warned that an assault over Al- Hudaydah could destroy the last procurement line for four millions of famished people (of a 28 million people population, 8 million are near starvation; the British humanitarian organization “Save the Children” estimates that almost 85.000 people under the age of 5 have died, since the war started, because of starvation).

The “100 of… victims” war (per week)

The air raids executed by Saudi Arabia’s Coalition (on 7th of April) over a residential area from Sana’s, controlled by the rebels, led to the death of 13 civils, including kids… Over 130 casualties… a school was one of the targets…

At least seven people, four of them being kids, died after an air attack executed (26th of April) close to a hospital in Yemen’s North-West area… More than 40 casualties, mostly kids…

We see such news, about the situation in Yemen, almost weekly in international mass-media… The explanations, however, are different (when someone actually bothers to give them): “the attack targeted a military base belonging to Houthi rebels…!”

Almost 5000 civils were killed and hurt in 2018, one out of five being a kid, after the Arab Coalition’s raids (according to UNHCR reports)… This is not a big number comparing to other wars (“global” wars that lasted “for decades”), happening in different times… However, given the current circumstances, being a local conflict, the collateral victims’ number is quite big… There are no victims that died due to diseases, malnutrion etc…

Half of the victims were recorded close to Al- Hudaydah port, where many confrontations took place between the Houthi rebels and the pro-governmental forces, supported by the Arab Coalition led by the Saudi Arabia.

The port-city, Al- Hudaydah (at the Red Sea), which is the main gate used by rebels to get goods and to make trade exchanges is controlled by Houthi since 2014.

One third of the victims were on their homes, on their way to their jobs or in other places that have no connection with war when the raids happened (different events, anniversaries, market places etc.).

More than 19.000 air raids conducted by the Arab Coalition, created by Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman (Minister of Defence), in four years (4.750 per year, more than 90 per week, 13 per day- and that’s a statistic that does not count the intense or lull periods)… A significant forces involvement…

When the air campaign started, they expected the pro-governmental forces, supported by the Arab Coalition, to win in a few weeks. After four years of fights and more than 60.000 victims, Sana’s capital and most of the urban places are still controlled by rebels.

Despite all Coalition’s guarantees that measures will be taken to avoid collateral loses, a great number of air attacks have targeted the civil areas. According to data collected by Yemen Data Project, almost two thirds from coalition’s raids have hit non-military or unknown targets.

Attackers’ targets were mainly airports, ports, bridges and telecommunication ways. They also attacked hospitals, schools, farms, oil and gases facilities, private businesses. Due to these uninterrupted attacks, Yemen’s civil, economic and medical infrastructure were almost destroyed and made this country one to have the most serious humanitarian crisis in the world.

What’s international community’s answer to all of this? Last year, in November, the European Parliament has adopted a resolution by which it was asking the EU member states to stop any guns sells to parts involved in the Yemen conflict, including to Saudi Arabia, which leads the Arab military coalition that supports the Yemen president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Also, the American Senate has passed a resolution that was asking for the American military support for the Coalition led by Saudis in the Yemen war to stop.

Results? Germany, which has cancelled the guns sells, has decided to restart the sells to third states that have licenses with Saudi Arabia and UAE; the American president, Donald Trump, as usual, does not really consider legislative’s resolutions… The greatest export markets for the US armament were, between 2013-2017, Saudi Arabia (that received 18% of all exports) and UAE (7,4%).

No perspectives…

After four years since Arab Coalition’s foundation and the launch of air raids against the Houthi rebels from Yemen, they are still controlling the biggest part of the mountain regions in North of the country, as well as Sana’s capital.

Meanwhile the Al- Hudaydah city-port area is experiencing a lull period after the implementation of a cease the fire agreement between the Houthi rebels and the Yemeni government, mediated by UN, the violent actions continued interruptedly in other areas.

In Ta’izz, the third largest Yemeni city, the local militias that joined the pro-governmental forces after rejecting the Houthi forces in almost the entire city, have started to fight over influence. In North of the country, the pro-governmental forces, supported by Arab Coalition’s raids, have took over the control of areas at the border with Saudi Arabia. However, more than 15 million Yemenis (over half of the population) are living in areas controlled by Houthi rebels.

President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and prime-minister Maeen Abdulamik are “governing” from port-city Aden (South of the country, second largest city), but, since the war erupted, they could not organize a Parliamentary session. Furthermore, a separatist movement, the South Transition Council/ STC, has increased its calls for the effective governance’s change (internationally recognized). STC, a group supported by United Arab Emirates (UAE), has repeatedly undermined government’s actions and aims at restoring the Republic of South Yemen (which got united with the North in 1990).

One of Yemen’s war greatest timeservers was the terrorist group Al-Qaida, which exploited the situation to expand their influence. Although they lately have lost some territories against the militias supported by UAE, the organization still has the control over the South and South-East areas, where the training camps for recruits are still active.  

However, it is important to notice that actions against government’s forces and the pro-governmental forces supported by UAE have decreased, because they would actually support the Houthi rebels this way. Direct actions against Houthi have also decreased because of the need to focus more on operations against Islamic State’s Yemeni sector, which is continuously increasing due to Syria’s members afflux (more about the Al-Qaida confrontation and the Islamic State from Yemen, in the DSM article, here).

Instead of conclusions…

UN’s efforts to mediate a negotiation between these two parts have repeatedly failed. Still, at the end of last year, for the second time since the war has started (2014) and for the first time ever in the last three years, both camps’ representatives have accepted and made it to meet in Sweden, under UN’s mediation, to negotiate a peace agreement.

However, the rebels, but also the pro-governmental forces, have agreed on accepting the UN mediation plan on stopping the war, the confrontations only had few lull periods, interrupted by fights’ intensification in the implementation-test area, the city-port Al-Hudaydah.

Previous negotiations rounds’ failure seem to suggest that both parts are imposing pre-conditions that will not allow a common negotiation ground. Discussions’ framework, established through the UN Resolution no.2216, can barely be followed because it envisages the unilateral disarmament of Houthi rebels and their withdrawal from the conquered territories.  Also, it does not show the conflict’s battlefield dynamic and does not impose conditions to involve foreign actors, so that they could anytime break any agreement.

After four years and a half of war, Houthi rebels got from an isolated militia from Saada area (North of Yemen) to a pseudo-statehood entity controlling with an iron hand almost all the northern part of Yemen. Houthi enlarged and reinforced their influence through a combination between forces and alliances with strong tribes or Yemeni personalities, but also through political opportunities and buying loyalty.

Locally, Houthi have established a district-based administration system by appointing a supervisor to take all the necessary decisions for their issues. Decisions in important and sensitive fields are in Houthi’s leadership responsibility (security, control maintenance, mobilization/ recruiting of many fighters).

The popular support for Houthi gets reinforced by quasi-permanent air raids, executed by the Arab Coalition: life on earth, even along Houthi, seems a better choice than sky’s death!