Yemen’s peace talks failed because the aggressors wanted them to fail

Image result for yemen architecture

This article was originally published in June 2015 in Middle East Eye.

The Yemen peace talks in Geneva broke down last week before they even got underway – indeed, the delegations never even made it into the same room, let alone reaching an agreement. That this was so came as no great surprise either to observers or participants of the disastrous war in Yemen. But in all the talk of ‘mutual recriminations’ and ‘intransigence on both sides’, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that these talks failed because the aggressors – that is, the Saudi-led and British-US sponsored ‘coalition’ bombing the country – wanted them to fail.

The central fact is that the ceasefire proposed by UN Secretary-general Ban-Ki Moon – a basic condition for peace talks everywhere – was blocked by the Saudis. The Houthis, naturally enough, refused to negotiate whilst the Saudis were still bombing. The Saudis refused to stop bombing until the Houthis withdrew from all the cities they captured during the war. In other words, whilst the Houthis sought a mutual ceasefire, the Saudis demanded nothing less than abject surrender as the precondition for negotiations. Given that the Houthis have suffered very few territorial losses since the Saudis began bombing in March, this was obviously never going to happen.

The Saudis’ Yemeni allies – forces loyal to exiled President Hadi (who came to power in 2012 following an election in which he was the sole candidate) – clearly shared their backers’ bad faith in relation to the talks. As Medhat al-Zahedwrites in Al Ahram Weekly:

“In response to Ki-moon’s appeal for a two-week humanitarian truce on the occasion of the Holy Month of Ramadan, the Yemeni government in exile adopted a far from conciliatory tone. Ramadan was a month for jihad and did not require the fighting to stop, the foreign minister said …Opposition to a truce was stronger still from Ahmed Al-Masiri, the leader of the Southern Resistance forces that are fighting the Houthis and regiments from the Yemeni army loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh on the ground… He rejected the idea of a humanitarian truce, saying it was “out of the question during Ramadan and after Ramadan”. “Ramadan is a holy month in which jihad is permissible,” he said…The conference got off to a heated start, with the Yemeni delegation brandishing Riyadh-inspired slogans. “We came to speak about implementing the UN Security Council Resolution, not to negotiate,” it said. “The task is to reinstate the government and withdraw the militias.” The rigidity of the Yemeni government and its Saudi backer stems from the fact that they have opposed the negotiations from the outset. They have insisted on the term “consultation” and originally pushed for Riyadh as the venue. “We agreed [to come to Geneva] to please the UN, so that they don’t say we are against peace or that we are stubborn,” Al-Masiri said.”

The anti-Houthi side, in other words, had no intention of either negotiating or accepting a ceasefire themselves, but went to Geneva simply to allow the ongoing war to be spun in such a way that places the blame solely on the Houthis.

In fact, this deliberate scuppering of any chance of a negotiated settlement in favour of continued war and chaos mirrors precisely the start of the Saudi bombing campaign itself. A month after the bombing began, it was revealed that “Operation Decisive Storm” had been initiated just as Yemen’s warring parties were on the verge of signing a power-sharing agreement that could have ended the country’s civil war. As Jamestown Foundation noted: “According to the former UN Special Adviser on Yemen, Jamal Benomar, negotiations between all major stakeholders in Yemen were nearing an interim conclusion on a power sharing agreement when Saudi Arabia and its allies launched Operation Decisive Storm on March 25 (Wall Street Journal, April 26). Despite the Houthis’ push into south Yemen, representatives from the south remained engaged in negotiations. The commencement of aerial strikes by Saudi Arabia and its partners ended the negotiations and led to a dramatic escalation of violence between the Houthis and southern militias, who, with the support of Saudi Arabia, were determined to reverse the gains made in the south by the Houthis and their allies.”

The question, then, is ‘why’? Why would Saudi Arabia gratuitously extend a destabilising war on their own Southern border – and continue to do so even when it had become thoroughly apparent that their ‘Decisive’ Storm was anything but?

The answer is not simply that they want to prevent ‘Shia’ influence in Yemen’s government, as is often claimed – as if it is self-evident that a ‘Sunni’ government would be against a ‘Shia’ one. This analysis is typical of the way in which orientalist Western journalism continues to attempt to ‘naturalise’ and reify religious and ethnic divisions in a way that suggests that sectarian intolerance is somehow in the DNA of non-Europeans. In fact, the ‘Sunni’ Saudi rulers have happily supported a Yemeni ‘Shia’ movement in the past – the forerunners of the Houthis no less – in the 1960s when the Zaydi Shia royalty was under threat from an Egyptian-backed republican movement: a conflict in which the Sunni Saudis and Shia Iran were on the same side. The Saudi involvement in Yemen is not about some kind of age-old sectarian identity – it is about strategy, a specific strategy that is in fact very new, dating back to the middle of the last decade, when the Saudi-Israeli-US-British alliance decided to channel billions of dollars into sectarian death squads that would be unleashed against the growing resistance axis spearheaded by Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah. The Houthis, by threatening the regional base of one of the most powerful of these groups – Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula – were a threat to this strategy. The chaos arising from the Saudi intervention, meanwhile, has provided the perfect conditions for its spread.

 

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Yemen and Britain’s deep-seated culture of duplicity and lying

Image result for the history thieves

This piece was originally published in August 2017 in Middle East Eye. 

Last Thursday was the last day of the current UK parliamentary session, before its summer recess. This made it the date for a particularly obnoxious new British tradition called ‘take out the trash day’. The UK government is obliged to issue all its public reports before the end of the parliamentary year; but to avoid scrutiny from MPs, the government now regularly withholds any potentially embarrassing reports until the very last day of that session. Then it can release them safe in the knowledge that there will be no time left for MPs to examine them, and no opportunity to question ministers over them.

So having issued very little information over the preceding weeks, once MPs were heading back to their constituencies, the government took the opportunity to releasedozens of reports and ministerial statements detailing everything from cuts to police, to the revolving door between cabinet ministers and private corporations, to the millions in legal fees the government spent attempting to prevent parliamentary scrutiny of Brexit. Buried deep amongst them was a Foreign Office report on the state of human rights in 30 countries deemed to be of ‘priority concern’. What makes the report embarrassing to Britain, however, is that 20 of these countries are major customers of British arms exports; with Saudi Arabia, of course, topping the list. The Saudis, whose mass executions, public lashings and restrictions on women’s rights are all detailed in the report, increased their UK weapons purchases from Britain by 11,000% following the start of their bombing campaign against Yemen in March 2015, and have purchased more than £3.3billion worth since then. Those weapons have played a major role in pushing Yemen to its current catastrophic situation, facing the fastest-growing cholera epidemic since records began, with 7 million people on the verge of famine. No wonder the UK does not want to draw attention to what is being facilitated by its relationship with the Saudis. It is right to be ashamed.

As well as downplaying Saudi atrocities, however, we also learned last Thursday that the UK government has been exaggerating its aid contribution to Yemen. In the most recent Commons debate on Yemen on 5th July, International Development minister Rory Stewart gave a figure he had inflated by 30%; his department used ‘take out the trash day’ to issue a correction to that figure, presumably expecting that no one would notice. In that, they seem to have been correct; I have been unable to find a single press report mentioning it. But perhaps lying to parliament about Yemen no longer qualifies as news – after all, it seems to have become standard practice for ministers.

By early 2016, with atrocities mounting in Yemen – such as airstrikes against three Medicins Sans Frontiers hospitals in as many months – some MPs began challenging the government’s policy, concerned in particular that British weapons were being used to carry out war crimes. Every time he was questioned on the issue, however, then-UK Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond insisted, in the face of copious evidence, that “we have assessed there has not been a breach of international humanitarian law by the coalition”. This claim, or variations of it, was repeated by ministers to parliament six times. But then, on ‘take out the trash day’ 2016, the Foreign Office effectively admitted that it had been a lie.  What Hammond should have said, said the FCO in the six ‘corrections’ they issued, was that “we have not assessed that there has been a breach of international humanitarian law by the coalition”. And that was because such an assessment – an assessment the government had been claiming all year to have carried out and which exonerated the Saudis – had never been made.

Britain is up to its neck in Yemen: it is the major supplier of the bombs dropped on Yemen, and of the jets used to drop them; it provides diplomatic cover to the Saudis (such as repeatedly blocking an independent investigation into Saudi war crimes); it supports the starvation blockade of the country; it provides training and logistical assistance to the Saudi armed forces; and it has 125 soldiers stationed in Saudi Arabia, including six officers based in the Saudi command and control HQ‘assisting with target selection’. Indeed, Britain may well have officers embedded in the Saudi army itself, given 2015’s ‘take out the trash day’ admission that Britain has 177 military personnel embedded within the armed forces of several other, undisclosed, countries. Yet ministers continue to lie to parliament that Britain is ‘not a party’ to the war in Yemen. As Mark Curtis has noted, this line was even repeated on the very day the British government disclosed that the Saudis used five different types of British bombs and missiles on Yemen.

The brazenness of the UK’s lies about its role in Yemen is underpinned by a tight secrecy which it hopes will prevent most of its duplicity ever being discovered.

Britain’s relations with Saudi Arabia have always been kept as obscure as possible, with the government regularly suppressing its own investigations and reports into the matter; the current refusal to release a Home Office report on terrorism funding lest it embarrass the Saudi and British governments has many precedents. In 2006, Tony Blair personally shut down the Serious Fraud Office investigation into a billion-pound bribery case involving British Aerospace and a Saudi prince, on the grounds it could endanger ‘national security’. And in 2014 Theresa May signed a secret ‘memorandum of understanding’ with Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Nayaf which the UK has consistently refused to make public. This was just months before the British-Saudi war on Yemen was unleashed.

Secrecy surrounds every aspect of Britain’s Yemen operation. It was the Saudi foreign minister, not the UK, who admitted to the stationing of British officers in his country’s command and control centre. The government has refused to provide details of its export licences to Saudi Arabia. And the government informed neither public nor parliament of its decision to send the Royal Navy’s most advanced warship, HMS Daring, to the coast of Yemen last November, essentially to help shore up the blockade.

When the truth does come out, government ministers see it as their job to try to rubbish it; Middle East minister Tobias Ellwood, for example, responded to a UN report documenting more than 100 coalition airstrikes which violated international law by claiming they had been either “mistakes” by the Saudis or, astoundingly, that they had been “fabricated” by the “media-savvy” Houthis.

But, as Ian Cobain has thoroughly documented in “The History Thieves: Secrets, lies and the shaping of a modern nation”, this culture of secrecy and deception is deeply-rooted in British political life – and nowhere more to than the Foreign Office.

In 2001, a group of elderly Kenyans began the process of taking the British government to court over their treatment. All of them alleged that they had been tortured by the British during the Mau-Mau rebellion of the 1950s. Writes Ian Cobain, “If the old people were telling the truth, hundreds of thousands of Kikuyu, the country’s largest ethnic group, had been incarcerated by the colonial government, abused, tortured, and not infrequently raped… [Jailers] had beaten inmates to death, and even burned men alive”. Yet the official documentation in Kenya seemed to be almost entirely lacking in anything covering the treatment of prisoners – and when the judge in the trial ordered the Foreign Office to disclose all relevants, they claimed they had nothing other than what was already held in the Kenyan archives. This was strange, as the colonial authorities had been meticulous record-keepers. Someone, it seemed, was not telling the truth.

Stories had long circulated of huge wooden crates being removed from the Kenyan archives to be flown to Gatwick nine days before independence. And then, during the trial, Oxford historian David Anderson introduced a 40-year old Foreign Office minute which suggested the Foreign Office were withholding around 1500 files on Kenyan which had never been disclosed. That was when the Foreign Office came clean. They had lied about not holding any relevant files; in fact, they finally admitted, they were indeed holding 1500 files on the last days of British rule in Kenya. Once these were handed over, they immediately corroborated all the Kenyans’ allegations; as Cobain wrote, the files “detailed the way in which suspected insurgents had been beaten to death, burned alive, raped, castrated – like two of the High Court claimants – and kept in manacles for years. Even children had been killed.” The government settled the case and paid £20million compensation to 5,228 claimants.

The case had led to the discovery of an epic cover-up. For it soon emerged that it was not only Kenya from where documents had been secretly removed. Following a instruction issued by the British colonial secretary Iain Macleod on 3rd May 1961, a massive operation of file-destroying and removal had been initiated across the entire British Empire. All files that could potentially embarrass the British government were ordered to be destroyed or removed to London – and almost 9000 such files, the government admitted in 2011, from 37 former colonies, were still being secretly held in Hanslope Park, 40 miles North of London. The government said it would clear the files for declassification and transfer to the national archives, and appointed Cambridge historian Tony Badger to oversee the process. He established that the true number of secret files was in fact more than 20,000. Yet even these ‘purged’ files had clearly themselves been purged. The Yemen files were particularly thin on the ground: Aden, which had seen a four-year long rebellion repressed with vicious brutality immediately prior to independence, had just five boxes. And when these were opened, writes Cobain, “it was found that half the files inside were personnel records of law ranking officials, while most of the remaining papers concerned agriculture”. This was not surprising, given what we now know from British civil servants in Aden, who have described what one called an “orgy of burning”. The files sent to London were, he wrote, “severely weeded”, such that “details of tribal affrays, secret counter-insurgency operations funded out of the coded-worded money bags…and many examples of less sensitive ‘keeni meeni’ are all gone, and are not duplicated elsewhere”. Keeni Meeni is the Swahili term for the ‘slithering of a snake’. It is an apt description for this entire episode of empire white-washing, indeed, for the whole operation of British imperialism, both then and now.
In truth, British foreign policy has always been a matter decided behind closed doors, with public and parliament informed as little as possible, and consulted even less. Cobain explains how Britain’s eleven-year war in Oman, begun in 1965, was not even publicly admitted until 1972, with ministers lying about the situation to parliament almost compulsively, and journalists barred from entering the country at all. He also notes how Britain’s unique system of media self-censorship – enforced by the infamous D notice committee – which covers almost all aspects of war reporting, today results in an estimated 80-90% of all relevant news reports being submitted to the committee before publication. This is an amazing level of government control of information about its wars, covert or otherwise. Moreover, we now know that the 20,000 secret files from ‘Operation Legacy’ were but the tip of the iceberg: the Foreign Office is, it has recently been discovered, actually holding at least 170,000, and possibly up to 1.2 million secret files, dating back to 1662 and taking up 15 miles of floor-to-ceiling shelving. The Foreign Office has clearly never considered itself to be bound by the various Public Records Acts which supposedly make official documents accessible to all. In 1971, former Cabinet minister Richard Crossman claimed that “secretiveness is the real English disease and in particular the chronic ailment of British government” – and that it “ensures that the House of Commons is the worst informed legislature in the world”. Today’s war in Yemen shows he remains dismally right.

The new era of famine: made in the West

The Wider Image: Risk of famine looms in Yemen
Salem Abdullah Musabih, 6, lies on a bed at a malnutrition intensive care unit at a hospital in the Red Sea port city of Hodaida, Yemen September 11, 2016. 

The famines threatening four countries today have one thing in common: Western aggression and destabilisation.

In February of this year, the world’s first famine in six years was officially declared in South Sudan. A month later, the UN’s humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien warned the Security Council that three other countries – Yemen, Somalia, and Nigeria – also stood on the brink of famine, with 20 million at risk of starving to death within months. The world, he said, was now “facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations”. Unless $4.4billion in emergency funds was raised by the end of March, warned UN Secretary General Antionio Guterres, 20 million would likely starve to death. When the deadline was reached, he had received less than a tenth of that, a paltry $423million.

The amount raised has increased then, but still stands at little above one third of the target. It is almost certain not to met, with donations dropping sharply since mid-May.

For context, the New York Times helpfully pointed out, that $4.4billion is almost exactly the same amount as Britain has made selling weapons to Saudi Arabia in the past two years – most of which have been used against the famine-stricken Yemenis – and less than 10% of the $54billion in additional spending Donald Trump just pledged for the US military.

Yemen was in the news again this week, twice. First was the announcement by the Red Cross that cholera cases in Yemen have now reached 300,000. Then came the ruling by Britain’s High Court – choosing to believe private government assurances over volumes of first-hand eyewitness accounts – that the UK government’s arming of the vicious Saudi war against the Yemeni people is perfectly above board. These two declarations are not unrelated. For it is precisely Britain’s proxy war against Yemen that has led to the medieval levels of famine and disease now sweeping the country.

Back in October 2015 the head of the International Red Cross wrote that “Yemen after five months looks Syria after five years”. Today, according to Save the Children, one Yemeni child is infected with cholera every 35 seconds. This epidemic comes hot on the heels of last year’s dengue fever outbreak, which the World Health Organisation said they struggled to control due to the “near collapse of the health system” and “disruption of water supplies” resulting from the Western-supplied bombing campaign.  Hospitals have been bombed regularly. Following Philip Hammond’s justification of bombing raids on three Yemeni hospitals in as many months, the MSF warned that targeting hospitals was now becoming the “new normal”.

Bombing of hospitals and grain distribution centres, however, is just part of the story of the West’s genocide against the Yemeni people. Yemen is dependent on imports for more than 80% of its fuel, food and medicine, and 70% of these imports come through the Huydadeh port. This port was bombed in August 2015 by the Saudi-led coalition, and has been blockaded ever since, directly creating the current situation in which 21 million suffer food shortages, including 7 million facing famine. As the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and international sanctions has noted, this blockade is “one of the main causes of the humanitarian catastrophe”, helping to lead to what he called  “this man-made famine”. Needless to say, this blockade – along with every aspect of the Saudi genocide in the Yemen – is fully supported by the US and Britain.

Yet Yemen is not the only place where Western policy is leading to famine.

This week marks the sixth anniversary of the independence of South Sudan. Yet, for the second year in a row, the planned celebrations have been cancelled because, in the midst of starvation and civil war, there is nothing to celebrate.

The country’s descent into famine was officially announced on 20th February this year, with 100,000 starving and a further 1 million on the brink of famine. The official criteria for a famine are that 20% of a population must be suffering “extreme food shortages”, 30% suffering acute malnutrition, and at least 1 per 5000 dying each day. Whilst those criteria are no longer being met, acute hunger has now reached 6 million, up from 5 million in February – over half the population. As in Yemen, this is a crisis of biblical proportions. As in Yemen, it is man-made. And, as in Yemen, it is the thoroughly predictable outcome of Western militarism.

The US and Britain were instrumental to the partition of Sudan in 2011, and it is precisely this partition which has bequeathed the country’s current tragedy. Just as in Libya, in the same year, a loose coalition of rebels with no unified programme were effectively placed in power by Western largesse. And just as in Libya, the inevitable collapse of this coalition has brought total devastation to the country.

The Southern People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) was formed by rebel army colonel John Garang in 1983, and in the 1990s, under Clinton, the US began pouring millions of dollars into the insurgent movement. Although formally an uprising against the government in Khartoum, it has often relied on an appeal to ethnic chauvanism to galvanise support. According to former national committee memberDr. Peter Nyaba, for example, the movement’s very first mobilisation “that took more than ten thousand Bor youth to SPLA training camps in 1983 was not for the national agenda of liberation but to settle local scores with their neighbours, the Murles or the Nuers.” Similarly, Riek Machar’s faction of the SPLM, based mainly within the Nuer community, conducted a massacre of thousands of Dinka civilians in 1991. Dr Nyaba argues that political training was neglected in favour of, often very brutal, military training, leading to often horrific excesses against the populations under their control. After liberating an area, said Nyaba, the Movement should have

instituted “democratic reforms: a popular justice system, a new system of

education, health and veterinary services.” Such a move, he says, “would have given the SPLM the opportunity to prove itself to the people and to the world and, therefore,

to build a solid popular power base making the SPLM/A the authentic

representative of the people….the ‘New Sudan’ would have been born in the

physical and objective reality of the people, allowing the SPLM/A to acquire

political sovereignty and diplomatic recognition”. These, indeed, are the normal steps taken by genuinely successful revolutionary movements the world over. But this is not what happened. Rather, says Nyaba, the SPLM “denigrated into an agent of plunder, pillage and destructive conquest”. It was at precisely this point that the US began funding the movement, with the initial $20 million provided by Clinton soon expanding to $100 million per year under Bush’s satirically-named “Sudan Peace Act” of 2002.

Just as in Libya, the impact of such US largesse has been to enable insurgent groups to achieve their aims without providing the visionary leadership or mass organisational skills necessary to galvanise genuine mass support. Put simply, US support has rendered mass support unnecessary. Genuine revolutions – that is, revolutions attained primarily through the efforts of the masses themselves, rather than through pressure applied by external patrons – can only succeed with a visionary programme capable of winning the total commitment of the masses. Yet in South Sudan, the SPLM, thanks to US support, were able to come to power without this. The long term impact of this lack of popular, inspirational leadership has been an ideological vacuum into which have poured power struggles over patronage and resource networks.

Confident of external support, the SPLM – and its leader since Garang’s death in 2005, Salva Kiir – had no pressing need to win the support of all the tribes of the South. Without Western funding, Kiir would had to have reached out to the Nuer and the Murle and the other non-Dinka groups in order to secure enough support to force concessions from Sudan’s government. Had he done so, on the basis of a genuine mass programme capable of galvanising all the peoples of southern Sudan on a non-ethnic basis, this very programme would have formed the basis of a viable unity government following independence. However, confident of US backing, Kiir had no need to develop any of this. Instead, his clear patronage from the US enabled him to impose a false unity on his Nuer and Shilik rivals, in which his proximity to the US alone was enough to force them to fall in line if they did not want to be completely excluded from the power and the money coming his way. Political struggles for mass support were to be eclipsed by factional rivalries over who would control the flow of resources.

The same pattern has continued after independence. Assuming, correctly, that US support would continue to flow, President Kiir has had no particular need to endear himself to those outside his primary Dinka constituency, even going so far as to sack his Nuer deputy Riek Machar in 2013, triggering the latest round of civil war. This latest round of war has taken on particularly nasty ethnic dimensions, as the the SPLM’s rival factions, for years bound together by US dollars rather than by a genuine programme of unity, unravels.

Whilst Yemen’s near-famine was caused by the Western-directed bombing and blockade of that country, then, South Sudan’s actual famine is the result of years of proxy war funded by the West and the disastrous partition it produced. The situation in Nigeria is also a result of war, in this case the Boko Haram insurgency – an insurgency which owes its massive spread in recent years directly to the NATO destruction of Libya, which opened up the country’s weapons dumps to Boko Haram and its partners. Have no doubt, the latest wave of famine is a direct by-product of Western aggression – creating another 20 million victims for whom US and British governments must be brought to justice.

 

The country’s descent into famine was officially announced on 20th February this year, with 100,000 starving and a further 1 million on the brink of famine. The official criteria for a famine are that 20% of a population must be suffering “extreme food shortages”, 30% suffering acute malnutrition, and at least 1 per 5000 dying each day. Whilst those criteria are no longer being met, acute hunger has now reached 6 million, up from 5 million in February – over half the population. As in Yemen, this is a crisis of biblical proportions. As in Yemen, it is man-made. And, as in Yemen, it is the thoroughly predictable outcome of Western militarism.

 

The US and Britain were instrumental to the partition of Sudan in 2011, and it is precisely this partition which has bequeathed the country’s current tragedy. Just as in Libya, in the same year, a loose coalition of rebels with no unified programme were effectively placed in power by Western largesse. And just as in Libya, the inevitable collapse of this coalition has brought total devastation to the country.

 

The Southern People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) was formed by rebel army colonel John Garang in 1983, and in the 1990s, under Clinton, the US began pouring millions of dollars into the insurgent movement. Although formally an uprising against the government in Khartoum, it has often relied on an appeal to ethnic chauvanism to galvanise support. According to former national committee memberDr. Peter Nyaba, for example, the movement’s very first mobilisation “that took more than ten thousand Bor youth to SPLA training camps in 1983 was not for the national agenda of liberation but to settle local scores with their neighbours, the Murles or the Nuers.” Similarly, Riek Machar’s faction of the SPLM, based mainly within the Nuer community, conducted a massacre of thousands of Dinka civilians in 1991. Dr Nyaba argues that political training was neglected in favour of, often very brutal, military training, leading to often horrific excesses against the populations under their control. After liberating an area, said Nyaba, the Movement should have

instituted “democratic reforms: a popular justice system, a new system of

education, health and veterinary services.” Such a move, he says, “would have given the SPLM the opportunity to prove itself to the people and to the world and, therefore,

to build a solid popular power base making the SPLM/A the authentic

representative of the people….the ‘New Sudan’ would have been born in the

physical and objective reality of the people, allowing the SPLM/A to acquire

political sovereignty and diplomatic recognition”. These, indeed, are the normal steps taken by genuinely successful revolutionary movements the world over. But this is not what happened. Rather, says Nyaba, the SPLM “denigrated into an agent of plunder, pillage and destructive conquest”. It was at precisely this point that the US began funding the movement, with the initial $20 million provided by Clinton soon expanding to $100 million per year under Bush’s satirically-named “Sudan Peace Act” of 2002.

 

Just as in Libya, the impact of such US largesse has been to enable insurgent groups to achieve their aims without providing the visionary leadership or mass organisational skills necessary to galvanise genuine mass support. Put simply, US support has rendered mass support unnecessary. Genuine revolutions – that is, revolutions attained primarily through the efforts of the masses themselves, rather than through pressure applied by external patrons – can only succeed with a visionary programme capable of winning the total commitment of the masses. Yet in South Sudan, the SPLM, thanks to US support, were able to come to power without this. The long term impact of this lack of popular, inspirational leadership has been an ideological vacuum into which have poured power struggles over patronage and resource networks.

 

Confident of external support, the SPLM – and its leader since Garang’s death in 2005, Salva Kiir – had no pressing need to win the support of all the tribes of the South. Without Western funding, Kiir would had to have reached out to the Nuer and the Murle and the other non-Dinka groups in order to secure enough support to force concessions from Sudan’s government. Had he done so, on the basis of a genuine mass programme capable of galvanising all the peoples of southern Sudan on a non-ethnic basis, this very programme would have formed the basis of a viable unity government following independence. However, confident of US backing, Kiir had no need to develop any of this. Instead, his clear patronage from the US enabled him to impose a false unity on his Nuer and Shilik rivals, in which his proximity to the US alone was enough to force them to fall in line if they did not want to be completely excluded from the power and the money coming his way. Political struggles for mass support were to be eclipsed by factional rivalries over who would control the flow of resources.

 

The same pattern has continued after independence. Assuming, correctly, that US support would continue to flow, President Kiir has had no particular need to endear himself to those outside his primary Dinka constituency, even going so far as to sack his Nuer deputy Riek Machar in 2013, triggering the latest round of civil war. This latest round of war has taken on particularly nasty ethnic dimensions, as the the SPLM’s rival factions, for years bound together by US dollars rather than by a genuine programme of unity, unravels.

 

Whilst Yemen’s near-famine was caused by the Western-directed bombing and blockade of that country, then, South Sudan’s actual famine is the result of years of proxy war funded by the West and the disastrous partition it produced. The situation in Nigeria is also a result of war, in this case the Boko Haram insurgency – an insurgency which owes its massive spread in recent years directly to the NATO destruction of Libya, which opened up the country’s weapons dumps to Boko Haram and its partners. Have no doubt, the latest wave of famine is a direct by-product of Western aggression – creating another 20 million victims for whom US and British governments must be brought to justice.

Britain’s century-long war against Yemen (January 2017)

YEMEN-CONFLICT

Britain has been waging war on the Yemen for almost a century, for one purpose – to keep the country weak and divided. For it is Yemen alone that has the potential to challenge the Saudi dominance of the peninsula that has served British interests so well.

Britain is backing a Saudi invasion of Yemen that has cost thousands of innocent lives. It is providing advanced weaponry to the Saudis, training their military, and has soldiers embedded with the Saudis helping with targeting; and there is suspicion that British soldiers may even be directly involved on the battlefield.

This is true of today. But it also describes exactly what was happening in the 1960s, in a shameful episode which Britain has, like so much of its colonial past, been effectively whitewashed out of history.

In 1962, following the death of Yemeni King Ahmad, Arab nationalist army officers led by Colonel Abdullah Al-Sallal seized power and declared a Republic. The Royalists launched an insurgency to reclaim power, backed by Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel and Britain, whilst Nasser’s Egypt sent troops to support the fledgling republican government.

In his book ‘Unpeople’, historian Mark Curtis pieces together Britain’s ‘dirty war’ in Yemen between 1962 and 1969 using declassified files which – despite their public availability and the incendiary nature of their revelations – have only ever been examined by one other British historian. British involvement spanned both Conservative and Labour governments, and implicated leading members of the British government in war crimes.

Just as today, the side under attack from Britain clearly had popular support – as British officials were well aware. Christopher Gandy Britain’s top official in Yemen’s cultural capital, Taiz noted that the previous regime was “unpopular with large elements and those in many ways the best”, describing it as “an arbitrary autocracy”. Another British official, in the Prime Minister’s office, wrote that Nasser had been “able to capture most of the dynamic and modern forces in the area whilst we have been left, by our own choice, backing the forces which are not merely reactionary (that would not matter so much) but shifty, unreliable and treacherous” Even Prime Minister Harold Macmillan admitted it was “repugnant to political equality and prudence alike that we should so often appear to be supporting out of date and despotic regimes and to be opposing the growth of modern and more democratic forms of government”. Thus, wrote Curtis, “Britain decided to engage in a covert campaign to promote those forces recognised [by Britain itself] as ‘shifty’, ‘treacherous’ and ‘despotic’ to undermine those recognised as ‘popular’ and ‘democratic'”.

At the request of Mossad, MI6 appointed Conservative MP Neil MacLean to run a guerrilla war against the new Republican government. At first Britain’s role was primarily to support and equip Jordan’s involvement in the war; just as today, it was British fighter jets carrying out airstrikes on Yemen, with British military advisors embedded with their allies at the most senior level. This involvement stepped up a gear in March 1963, however, when Britain began covertly supplying weapons to the Royalist forces themselves via their Gulf allies. The following month, says MI6 biographer Stephen Dorrill, millions of pounds worth of light weapons were shipped from an RAF station in Wilstshire to the insurgents, including 50,000 rifles. At the same time, a decision was taken by Britain’s foreign minister (shortly to become Prime Minister) Alec Douglas-Home, MI6 chief Dick White and SAS founder David Stirling to send a British force to work directly with the insurgents. But to avoid parliamentary scrutiny and public accountability, this force would be comprised of mercenaries, rather than serving soldiers. SAS soldiers and paratroopers were given temporary leave to join this new force on a salary of £10,000 per year, paid by the Saudi Prince Sultan. An MI6 task force was also set up, to facilitate weapons and personnel supplies, and authorisation was given for British mercenaries to lay mines. The same time as these decisions were taken, Douglas-Home told parliament “our policy in Yemen is one of non-intervention in the affairs of that country. It is not therefore our policy to supply arms to the Royalists in the Yemen”. Foreign minister Rab Butler was more uneasy with such barefaced lying, especially when evidence began circulating of exactly what Britain was up to; a memo he sent to the PM in 1964 complained that his job of rebuffing UN claims that Britain was supplying the Royalists was made slightly more difficult “since we know that this is in fact true”.

British officials also knew that their insurgency had no chance of winning. But this was not the point. As Prime Minister Macmillan told President Kennedy at the time, “I quite realise that the Loyalists will probably not win in

Yemen in the end but it would not suit us too badly if the new Yemeni regime were occupied with their own internal affairs during the next few years”. What Britain wanted, he added, was “a weak government in Yemen not able to make trouble”. Nor was this only Macmillan’s personal opinion; his foreign policy advisor Philip de Zulueta wrote that “All departments appear to be agreed that the present stalemate in the Yemen, with the Republicans and Royalists fighting each other and therefore having no time or energy left over to make trouble for us in Aden, suits our own interests very well…our interest is surely to have the maximum confusion in the tribal areas on the Aden frontier” with Yemen.

Labour came to power in the autumn of 1964, but the policy stayed the same; indeed, direct (but covert) RAF bombing of Yemen began soon after. In addition, another private British military company Airwork Services, signed a $26million contract to provide personnel for training Saudi pilots and ground crew involved in the war. This agreement later evolved into British pilots actually carrying out bombing missions themselves, with a foreign office memo dated March 1967 noting that “we have raised no objection to their being employed in operations, though we made it clear to the Saudis that we could not publicly acquiesce in any such arrangements”. By the time the war ended – with its inevitable Republican victory – an estimated 200,000 people had been killed.

At the same time as Britain was running the insurgency in North Yemen, it was fighting a vicious counter-insurgency campaign in South Yemen – then a colonial protectorate known as the Federation of Southern Arabia. This federation comprised the port city of Aden, under the direct colonial rule of the UK, and a series of sheikhdoms in the pay of the UK in the neighbouring hinterland. Its inhabitants were desperately poor, with one British commander noting that “there is barely enough subsistence to support the population”. These were the conditions behind a major revolt against British rule that broke out in the district of Radfan in April 1964 and would not be quelled for 7 months. The methods used to do so were typically brutal, with the British High Commissioner of Aden, Sir Kennedy Trevaskis suggesting that soldiers be sent to “put the fear of death into the villages”. If this didn’t work, he said “it would be necessary to deliver some gun attacks on livestock or men outside the villages”, adding that “we might be able to claim that our aircraft were shooting back of [sic] men who had fired at us from the ground”. The British use of airstrikes against the risen peasants was massive: historian John Newsinger writes that in just 3 months in 1964, British jets fired 2508 rockets and 200,000 cannon rounds, whilst British bombers dropped 3504 20-pound bombs and 14 1000-pound bombs and fired 20,000 cannon rounds. The government took Trevaskis’ advice and targeted crops in what Newsinger correctly described as a “deliberate, calculated attempt to terrorise and starve them into surrender.” Although the Radfan rebellion was eventually crushed, the British lost control of the hinterland to the National Liberation forces less than three years later, swiftly followed by Aden itself.

The 1960s was not the first time Britain had aided and abetted a Saudi war against the Yemenis, however. In 1934, Ibn Saud invaded and annexed Asir – “a Yemeni province by all historical accounts” in the words of the academic and Yemen specialist Elham Manea – and forced Yemen to sign a treaty deferring their claims to the territory for 20 years. It has never been returned to Yemen and remains occupied by the Saudis to this day. Britain’s role in facilitating this carve up was significant. As Manea explains, “During this period, the real power was Great Britain. Its role was crucial in either exacerbating or containing regional conflicts….[and] in the Yemeni-Saudi war they intensified the conflict to the detriment of Yemen”. When Ibn Saud claimed sovereignty over Asir in 1930, the British, who had been neutral towards disputes between the Peninsula’s various rulers hitherto, “shifted their position, perceiving Asir as ‘part of Saudi Arabia’... This was a terrible setback for [Yemeni leader] Yihia and drove him into an agreement with the British in 1934 which ultimately sealed his total defeat.” The agreement forced Yihia to recognise British sovereignty of Aden – Yemen’s major port – for 40 years. Britain then provided military vehicles for the Saudi suppression of the Asiri revolt and subsequent occupation that followed.

So the current British-Saudi war against Yemen is in fact the third in a century. But why is Britain so seemingly determined to see the country dismembered and its development sabotaged? Strange as it may seem, the answer is that Britain is scared of Yemen. For Yemen is the sole country on the Arab peninsula with the potential power to challenge the colonial stitch-up reached between Britain and the Gulf monarchies it placed in power in the nineteenth century, and who continue to rule to this day. As Palestinian author Said Aburish has noted, the very “nature of the Yemen was a challenge to the Saudis: it was a populous country with more than half the population of

the whole Arabian peninsula, had a solid urban history and was more advanced than its new neighbour. It also represented a thorn in the side of British colonialism, a possible springboard for action against their control of Saudi Arabia and all the makeshift tributary sheikhdoms and emirates of the Gulf. In particular, the Yemen represented a threat to the British colonisation of Aden, a territory which considered itself part of a greater Yemen which had been dismembered by colonialism”. The potential power of a united, peaceful, Yemen was also highlighted by Aden’s High Commissioner Kennedy Trevaskis, who noted that, if the Yemenis took Aden, “it would for the first time provide the Yemen with a large modern town and a port of international consequence” and “economically, it would offer the greatest advantages to so poor and ill developed a country”. A peaceful, united Yemen – with over half the peninsula’s population – would threaten Saudi-British-US hegemony of the entire region. That is why Britain has, for over 80 years, sought to keep it divided and warring.  

An edited version of this article originally appeared at Middle East Eye.

Yemen: A Very British War (January 2016)

The Wider Image: Risk of famine looms in Yemen

Britain is at the heart of a humanitarian disaster of epic proportions unfolding in the Yemen.

At least 10,000 people have been killed since the Saudi bombing campaign against Yemen began in March 2015, including over 630 children. There has been a massive escalation in human rights violations to a level of around 43 per day and up to ten children per day are being killed, according to Unicef. 73% of child casualties are the direct result of airstrikes, say the UN.

Civilian targets have been hit again and again. Within days of the commencement of airstrikes, a refugee camp was bombed, killing 40 and maiming over 200, and in in October a Medicins San Frontier hospital was hit. Schools, markets, grain warehouses, ports and a ceramics factory have all been hit. Needless to say, all of these are war crimes under international law – as is the entire bombing campaign, lacking, as it does, any UN mandate.

Beyond their immediate victims, the airstrikes and accompanying blockade – a horrendous crime against a population which imports 90% of its basic needs – are creating a tragedy of epic proportions. Back in August 2015, Oxfam had already warned that around 13 million people were struggling to find enough to eat, the highest number of people living in hunger it had ever recorded. “Yemen after five months looks like Syria after five years,” the head of the International Red Cross commented in October. The following month, the UN reported that 14 million now lacked access to healthcare and 80% of the country’s 21-million population are dependent on humanitarian aid. “We estimate that over 19 million people lack access to safe water and sanitation; over 14 million people are food insecure, including 7.6 million who are severely food insecure; and nearly 320,000 children are acutely malnourished,” the UN’s Humanitarian Co-ordinator told reporters in November. He estimated that around 2.5 million have been made refugees by the war. In December, the UN warned that the country was on the brink of famine, with millions at risk of starvation.

Statements from British government ministers are crafted to give the impression of sympathy for the victims of this war, and opprobrium for those responsible. “We should be clear” said Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in September 2014, “the use of violence to make political gains, and the pointless loss of life it entails, are completely unacceptable. Not only does the recent violence damage Yemen’s political transition process, it could fuel new tensions and strengthen the hand of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula – threatening the security of all of us…Those who threaten the peace, security or stability of Yemen, or violate human rights, need to pay the price for their actions.” Indeed. So presumably, one might have thought, when the Saudis began their massive escalation of the war six months after Hammond made this statement, the British government must have been outraged?

Not quite. The day after the Saudis began ‘Operation Decisive Storm’, David Cameron phoned the Saudi king personally to emphasise “the UK’s firm political support for the Saudi action in Yemen”.  Over the months that followed, Britain, a long-term arms dealer to the Saudi monarchy, stepped up its delivery of war materiel to achieve the dubious honour of beating US to become its number one weapons supplier. Over hundred new arms export licences have been granted by the British government since the bombing began, and over the first six months of 2015 alone, Britain sold more than £1.75billion worth of weapons to the Saudis – more than triple Cameron’s usual, already obscene, bi-annual average. The vast majority of this equipment seems to be for combat aircraft and air-delivered missiles, including more than 1000 bombs, and British-made jets now make up over half the Saudi air force. As the Independent has noted, “British supplied planes and British made missiles have been part of near-daily raids in Yemen carried out by [the] nine-country, Saudi Arabian led coalition”.
Charities and campaign groups are unanimous in their view that, without a shadow of a doubt, British patronage has greatly facilitated the carnage in the Yemen. “The [British] government is fuelling the conflict that is causing unbearable human suffering. It is time the government stopped supporting this war ” said chief executive of Oxfam GB, Mark Goldring. The director of Amnesty International UK, Kate Allen, said: “The UK has fuelled this appalling conflict through reckless arms sales which break its own laws and the global arms trade treaty it once championed….legal opinion confirms our long-held view that the continued sale of arms from the UK to Saudi Arabia is illegal, immoral and indefensible”. For Edward Santiago, Save the Children’s country director in Yemen, the UK’s “reluctance to publicly condemn the human cost of conflict in Yemen gives the impression that diplomatic relations and arms sales trump the lives of Yemen’s children,” whilst Andrew Smith from Campaign Against the Arms Trade, has written that “UK fighter jets and UK bombs have been central to the humanitarian catastrophe that is being unleashed on the people of Yemen”. Leading lawyers including Philippe Sands have argued that Britain is in clear breach of international law for selling weapons which it knows are being used to commit war crimes.
Now it has emerged that it is not only British weapons being used in this war, but British personnel as well. According to Sky News, six British military advisors are embedded with the Saudi airforce to help with targetting. In addition, there are 94 members of the UK armed forces serving abroad “carrying out duties for unknown forces, believed to be the Saudi led coalition”, according to The Week – although the government refuses to state exactly where they are.
Indeed, even British airstrikes in Syria may have been motivated in part by a desire to prop up the flagging war effort in Yemen. Questioning of Philip Hammond in parliament recently led him to admit that there had been a “decrease in air sorties by Arab allies” in Syria since Britain’s entry into the air campaign there due to the “challenges” of the Yemen conflict. For Scottish Nationalist MP Stephen Gethins this suggests that, by stepping up bombing in Syria, Western countries were effectively “cutting them [Arab states] a bit of slack to allow them to focus on the Yemen conflict”, especially needed given that support for the Yemen campaign has been flagging from states such as Jordan, Morocco and Egypt. It is particularly ironic that British MPs’ supposed commitment to destroying ISIS in Syria is actually facilitating a war in Yemen in which ISIS are the direct beneficiaries.
Finally, it is worth considering British support for the Saudi bid for membership of the UN Human Rights Council. The Council’s reports can be highly influential; indeed, it was this Council’s damning (and, we now know, fraudulent) condemnation of Gaddafi that provided the ‘humanitarian’ pretext for the 2011 NATO war against the Libyan Jamahiriya. And the Yemeni government’s recent expulsion of the UN Human Rights envoy shows just how sensitive the prosecutors of the Yemeni war are to criticism. It would, therefore, be particularly useful for those unleashing hell on Yemen to have the UN Council stacked with supporters in order to dampen any criticism from this quarter.
Britain, then, is the major external force facilitating the Saudi-fronted war against the people of Yemen. Britain, like the Saudis, is keen to isolate Iran and sees destroying the Houthis as a key means of achieving this. At the same time, Britain seems perfectly happy to see Al Qaeda and ISIS take over from the Houthi rebels they are bombing – presumably regarding a new base for terrorist destabilization operations across the region as an outcome serving British interests.