Sunday, January 31, 2010

U.S. Targets Yemen, Expands 'War on Terror'

U.S. targets Yemen, expands ‘war on terror’

By Joyce Chediac
Published Jan 30, 2010 6:34 AM

On Jan. 4, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed “instability” in Yemen posed “a global threat.” Why is Yemen unstable? Where does the “threat” really come from? Why are U.S. cruise missiles killing civilians in Yemen?

Brief history of Yemen

The Republic of Yemen is strategically located in the southwestern tip of the Arabian Peninsula and across from the Horn of Africa. It is bordered in the north by Saudi Arabia and in the east by Oman.

In modern times, this country’s struggle for sovereignty has drawn fire from the most powerful imperialist countries and their Middle Eastern clients.

Yemen was taken over by the British and made a colony in 1939. When the Suez Canal opened in 1869, the port of Aden — one of Yemen’s natural resources — became British colonialism’s refueling port.

When a wave of anti-imperialist struggle gripped the Arab world in the 1950s and 1960s, the Yemeni people threw out the British colonizers and formed the Yemen Arab Republic in 1962. The new state was supported by Egypt, then a leader in the Arab national struggle, which sent in troops to protect it.

Yemeni independence and self-determination was opposed by Saudi Arabia, a surrogate for Washington and to this day the oppressor regime in the Arabian Peninsula. The heavily armed Saudi regime has regularly interfered in Yemeni affairs and opposed any progressive measures there.

Yemenis in the southern part of the country took the struggle a step further. After a successful armed struggle, they set up a state which aspired to build socialism. In 1967, the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen was born in the south. The new state aligned with the Soviet Union, China and Cuba.

The PDRY contained most of Yemen’s natural resources. The port of Aden and Yemen’s oil deposits are in the south. The PDRY controlled the Bab al Mandeb straits — a strategic oil tanker passageway — which the U.S. government now seeks to control. Despite these resources, relentless pressure from world imperialism and repeated attempts by the Saudis to destabilize the progressive government prevented the PDRY from developing its economy.

In 1990, after the collapse of the socialist camp, the socialist south and capitalist north reunited in a strained union to form the Republic of Yemen. The new government, headed by Yemen’s current president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, for a short time included a relative balance of representatives between Yemen’s north and south.

A year later, when the U.S. and its allies invaded Iraq for the first time, the Republic of Yemen opposed this attack on Iraq. The Saudi regime retaliated against Yemen for its progressive and independent stand by expelling a million Yemenis working and living in Saudi Arabia; thereby destabilizing Yemen, which could not absorb them all. A half million desperate people camped outside Sann’a, the capital city. Yemen’s poverty level shot up to 47 percent, and remains in the same range today.

The message was clear. Imperialism and its surrogates in the region would not tolerate independent positions from Yemen. The Yemeni government became an agent of the Saudis and the U.S. The resource-rich south was virtually annexed, its political leaders forced to flee, and its inhabitants treated like second-class citizens.

Since then, the Sann’a regime’s pro-imperialist and corrupt policies have isolated ever growing sectors of the population. Yemen oil money was used not to develop the country but to line the Swiss bank accounts of Yemen’s rulers and those they buy off. The drop in oil prices associated with the 2008 capitalist economic crisis struck a body blow to the Yemeni economy. As Yemen’s economy has become more unstable, its rulers have become more corrupt and more repressive.

U.S., Yemeni and Saudi regimes bombing Yemeni people

When Clinton raised concern over Yemen’s “instability” she never mentioned the root causes and imperialism’s role. Nor does she mention that right now, under the guise of fighting terror, the U.S., Yemeni and Saudi regimes are bombing and terrorizing the people of Yemen.

Today there are three distinct insurgencies in Yemeni. Most significant are the Houthi insurrection in the north and especially the secular Southern Movement. Most recently, at the behest of the U.S., Sann’a has begun attacking the small group called al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, not before seen as a threat.

The U.S. media claim that the Houthi fight with Sann’a is a Sunni-Shiite conflict based on religion. However, Edmund J. Jull, U.S. ambassador to Yemen from 2002 to 2004, calls this a “myth” and explains that “the Houthi and President Saleh are followers of the Zaidi sect of Shiite Islam.” The Houthis are fighting for cultural rights against a repressive regime. The Yemeni government has been destroying their villages since 2004, making tens of thousands refugees. Saudi jets regularly bomb Houthi positions.

The Southern Movement is a broad-based secular movement whose goal is the secession of the south. Its core is made up of former officials and military officers of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. It also includes Baathists, Nassarites and traditional local leaders.

Gary Leupp, writing in the Jan. 15-17 issue of Counterpunch, says the Southern Movement has “little in common with al-Qaida” and views Yemeni President Saleh as “a corrupt, nepotistic dictator using U.S. aid and the exaggerated al-Qaida threat to his own advantage.”

Tiny al-Qaida not seen as a Yemeni “problem”

As for al-Qaida in the Arabian Gulf, even U.S. intelligence estimates that the group is only loosely affiliated with the Bin Laden group and has no more than 200 people, most of whom do not have weapons. The group, however, is located in the oil-rich and strategic south.

Gregory Johnson, a Princeton graduate student specializing in Yemen, said, “The Yemeni government is much more concerned with fighting the Houthis in Saada and with the secessionists in the south. Al-Qaida ranks a distant third. The government doesn’t see it as a Yemeni problem. [It sees it as] a foreign problem.”

That was before government instability in this strategic country sounded alarm bells in Washington. Now, said Leupp, Yemeni President Saleh has “smeared” the Southern Movement “as an al-Qaida offshoot” to “strengthen his grip over the country with U.S. support” because “his government is weak and risks losing control over the oil-rich south without outside help.”

Washington claims “threats” from Yemen stem from an alleged al-Qaida connection and the aborted attempt to bring down a U.S. airliner on Dec. 25. Yet the Pentagon began air strikes on southern Yemen on Dec. 18, seven days earlier. CBS reports that the 60 victims were mostly civilians, including women and children. Additionally, the Houthis in north Yemen, far from al-Qaida, say that they have been bombed by U.S. drones.

The U.S. concern in Yemen is not al-Qaida “threats.” It is concern that imperialism remain in control of strategic and oil-rich Yemen and the nearby oil routes. Washington, however, underestimates the determination of the Yemeni people, who are very political, and have a long history of struggle.

Next: The Pentagon’s war on terror — does it make people in the U.S. safer?

Based on a talk given at a Workers World forum in New York City on
Jan. 16.

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