Profit, hypocrisy and slaughter: Britain’s role in the war on Yemen

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Six months since the beginning of the Saudi Arabian-led war, Yemen faces a critical humanitarian crisis. 84% of the population, 21 million people, are in immediate need of humanitarian assistance – more than anywhere else in the world. 1.5 million people have been made refugees. Almost 5,000 people have been killed. Peter Maurer, the head of the International Red Cross, recently said ‘Yemen after five months looks like Syria after five years’. Despite the fact that the onslaught is supporting forces which include Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), it is backed by the major imperialist powers, with Britain among them. This is not a surprise given the British state’s cosy and lucrative relationship with the brutal and tyrannical Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The media in Britain has been largely silent about this slaughter. Toby Harbertson reports.

Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s richest countries. Yemen is one of the poorest. Saudi Arabia, along with a coalition of eight regional powers, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has been bombing Yemen since 25 March 2015. This intervention in the Yemeni civil war is in support of the Southern Movement, including forces loyal to the NATO-backed government of Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi. AQAP – jihadists who are the supposed target of a US drone campaign in central and eastern Yemen – fight alongside the Southern Movement. Despite this, the US has been providing intelligence and weapons to support the Saudi campaign. As in Syria, the Gulf monarchies are supporting reactionary Sunni jihadists. As in Syria, the imperialists are supporting the same jihadist forces they publicly claim are their greatest enemy. Supporting the rule of their client Saudi Arabia over the region, and undermining the influence and allies of Iran, are the imperialists’ main priorities.

The Saudi-led onslaught followed the advance of the rebel Ansar Allah (Followers of God) movement to the major city of Aden and the fleeing of the Hadi government. Ansar Allah is commonly referred to as the ‘Houthis’. They are aligned with the Lebanese Hezbollah movement. The Houthis are largely made up of those from the Zaidi branch of Shia Islam, and Saudi Arabia accuses them of being backed by Iran. The Houthis are currently allied with forces loyal to ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh who was ousted in 2012. The Houthis declare that they aim to rid the country of AQAP. They accuse Israel, the US and regional Sunni powers of arming and supporting AQAP.

Hundreds of Saudi and regional ground troops are in Yemen. On 5 September, 45 UAE soldiers and five Bahraini soldiers were killed in a Houthi missile attack – the UAE’s largest military death toll ever. Following this, the UAE sent 1,000 more troops. The war against the Houthis has been accompanied by a siege to stop aid, food and fuel entering the country. There have been more than 25,000 air-strikes. Amnesty International has accused Saudi Arabia of committing systematic war crimes. Six months of this has started to push the Houthis back. Aden was retaken on 21 July and it is now controlled by UAE troops. AQAP has been operating openly in Aden since then. The Hadi government returned to Aden on 16 September.

Britain complicit

Speaking in Saudi Arabia three days before the bombing began, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond explained that ‘no one wanted to see military action in Yemen’. In Washington on 27 March – five days later – he had become more enthusiastic: ‘We’ll support the Saudis in every practical way short of engaging in combat’. He celebrated Britain’s role in the slaughter: ‘Saudis are, as I understand it, flying British-built aircraft in the campaign over Yemen and we have a significant infrastructure supporting the Saudi air force generally and if we are requested to provide them with enhanced support – spare parts, maintenance, technical advice, resupply – we will seek to do so.’ Britain is the leading arms supplier to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is the biggest customer of Britain’s arms industry. It spent £2.5bn upgrading its 73 Tornado fighter jets as part of a deal with British arms company BAE Systems. A recent Oxfam report, British aid and British arms: a coherent approach to Yemen?, revealed that Britain has granted 37 export licences for arms to Saudi Arabia since the bombing of Yemen began, with £17m worth of missiles sold in the three months prior to that.

The Saudi-led war is using cluster bombs – bombs made up of smaller bombs. These often remain partially unexploded. US cluster bombs remain in Vietnam 40 years after the war ended, where they continue to kill 300 people a year. They are banned under an international treaty to which Britain is a signatory. Those being used in Yemen are made by US arms company Textron. As Paul McGowan revealed in a letter to The Guardian on 19 May, these weapons have a direct link to better off workers in Britain, with many public sector pension funds investing in Textron. McGowan explains that for local councils, this money comes out of council tax: ‘So it is, in the West Midlands, that we council tax payers, to our shame, contribute about 25 pence each to the work of firms like Textron. That is all it takes to incinerate a child in Yemen.’

Britain has committed £55m in humanitarian aid to Yemen. International Development Secretary Justine Greening called for a ceasefire. This is all nothing but hypocrisy while Britain fuels the war. Compare this aid with the more than £4bn of arms Britain has sold Saudi Arabia in the last five years. From cluster bombs to guided missiles, British imperialism is complicit in war crimes in Yemen. Britain claims to be fighting jihadist terrorists but is also supporting them. Imperialist hypocrisy knows no bounds. We must cut through the lies of our ruling class and expose them for the imperialist warmongering profiteers that they are. It is the responsibility of people in Britain to fight against this war.         

FRFI 247 October/November 2015