The Imperialist War in Yemen

by Yanis Iqbal, published on Countercurrents, April 24, 2021

Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of the basics underlying a situation as they get lost in the ongoing reporting. [JB]

During a House hearing held on April 21, 2021, US Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking grossly misrepresented the imperialist war in the country. He remarked: “With regard to the Republic of Yemen Government, President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi remains the legitimate leader of Yemen. He was chosen in the last election held before the war, and UN Security Council Resolution 2216 recognizes his legitimacy as President.”

Illegitimate Leader

Hadi is an illegitimate leader and his claim to the presidency is tenuous. Following the 2011 Yemeni uprising, the internationally-backed Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative facilitated authoritarian President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s exit from office and Hadi’s ascent, with the latter’s mandate of a two-year transitional term affirmed in a one-candidate “election” in 2012. Hadi subsequently oversaw the nearly year-long National Dialogue Conference, which was meant to bring Yemen’s various factions to a consensus on how to address the country’s most pressing issues.

He then overstepped his mandate and halted the transition by implementing neoliberal reforms and attempting to impose a six-region federation of Yemen designed to weaken resistance groups. Hadi’s two-year term was extended for one year in 2014. Following the Houthi forces’ invasion of the capital in September of that year, Hadi’s flight south and eventually to Riyadh, and the neo-colonial military intervention in March 2015, his term as president became indefinite and unaccountable to the Yemeni people.

UNSC Resolution 2216 of April 2015, which established an arms embargo, demanded Houthi withdrawal from the cities and the handover of their weapons, allowed cash-rich Saudis and Emiratis – backed by the world’s most powerful states – to wage a brutal war against the poorest country in the region. All this was done under the pretext of reinstating the “legitimate,” “recognized” government of Hadi.

With the entry of the Saudi-led coalition into the war in 2015, attacks on infrastructure, energy, agriculture, fisheries and health care greatly accelerated. Yemenis are dependent on the import of food, fuel, medicine and other basic commodities through a small number of ports and airports. Imported food accounts for 70% of household consumption and 90% of wheat consumed, with fuel imports not meeting even half of domestic needs.

The Saudi-led coalition has periodically closed major airports and ports, limiting imports and driving up the costs of food and fuel. The coalition-led blockade has also led to rapid price increases for fuel, water and food, a lack of adequate medical supplies and the collapse of many private-sector businesses. The conflict exacerbated an already difficult prewar situation, in which much of the population lacked secure access to food, 70% lacked access to safe water and 40% had no access to health care. Hadi – a “legitimate” leader – supports this destruction of his country.

Prolonged Conflict

While commenting on the Houthis’ attack on Marib – the last governorate under the control of the Hadi regime – Lenderking said, “We must ask ourselves: are the Houthis seriously interested in peace if they continue to advance on a city where they have faced such heavy opposition, especially in the light of the March 22 Saudi announcement proposing an easing of restrictions on Hudaydah Port and Sana’a Airport and a comprehensive, nationwide ceasefire?” The March 22 truce plan proposed by Saudi Arabia was not an exceptional display of sympathy, as Lenderking would want us to believe.

The initiative fell short of the Houthis’ demand for a complete lifting of the blockade on Sana’a airport and Hodeida port. “Saudi Arabia must declare an end to the aggression and lift the blockade completely, but putting forward ideas that have been discussed for over a year is nothing new,” said spokesman Mohammed Abdulsalam. “We expected that Saudi Arabia would announce an end to the blockade of ports and airports and an initiative to allow in 14 ships that are held by the coalition.”

Inability to arrive at an equitable peace plan is representative of the discomfort of Western powers and their allies with an anti-imperialist force like Houthis. Positioned at the center of east-west trade routes traversing the Arabian Peninsula, East Africa, the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, Yemen is a key battleground for the towns, ports, military bases and shipping lanes that will underpin global power in the coming decades. In their desire to perpetuate global hegemony, imperialist powers have ensnared Yemen in a prolonged conflict.

Fractures among the coalition forces soon emerged across the southern governorates, as clashes continued between Saudi-backed Hadi forces and United Arab Emirates (UAE)-supported Southern Resistance Forces affiliated with the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council (STC), which seeks autonomy for the south. Various political militias, with affiliations to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Muslim Brotherhood and various tribal leaderships, also hold territory. The Yemen war has thus become an increasingly protracted and regionalized conflict in which local militias, regional powers and outside forces pursue conflicting interests that have precluded a political settlement.

By June 2020, Yemen was roughly divided into five zones of control: the northern highlands under largely Houthi rule; government-controlled areas of Marib, al-Jawf, northern Hadramawt, al-Mahra, Shebwa, Abyan and Taiz city; STC-dominated city of Aden and surrounding areas; coastal Hadramawt, aligned with local authorities; districts along the Red Sea coast headed by Tareq Saleh, Saleh’s nephew . These forces are financed by the UAE and Saudi Arabia and are made up largely of former members of the Republican Guard. In addition, Salafi, tribal and other militias exert de facto control in many areas and are likely to resist the recentralization of authority under any new national government.

The Houthi-led movement declares that its military is inspired by the tactics and tenacity of the Vietnamese National Liberation Front in the 1960-75 war. Having frustrated the coalition’s expectations of a swift and decisive victory against one of the poorest countries in the world, the Houthis have succeeded in trapping Saudi Arabia and its backers in their own Vietnam War. The only sensible option left for the imperialist powers is to leave Yemen and allow the country to embark on a path of sovereign development.

*Featured Image: Poverty in war-torn Yemen. Photo Credit: Tasnim News Agency


Yanis Iqbal is a student and freelance writer based in Aligarh, India and can be contacted at . His articles have been published by different magazines and websites such as Monthly Review Online, ZNet, Green Social Thought, Weekly Worker, News and Letters Weekly, Economic and Political Weekly, Arena, Eurasia Review, Coventry University Press, Culture Matters, Global Research, Dissident Voice, Countercurrents, Counterview, Hampton Institute, Ecuador Today, People’s Review, Eleventh Column, Karvaan India, Clarion India, OpEd News, The Iraq File, Portside and the Institute of Latin American Studies.

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