Britain continues to fuel slaughter in Yemen

For ten months, a Saudi-Arabian-led coalition has been waging war on Yemen with the full support of Britain and other imperialist powers. It has devastated the country to such an extent that 85% of the population are in need of humanitarian aid. More than 10,000 people have been killed, including 630 children – UNICEF estimates that up to ten children are now being killed every day. 1,000 schools have been destroyed, and 130 hospitals bombed. The UN and NGOs report evidence of systematic war-crimes and the Yemeni branch of the Islamic State group (IS) is thriving in the chaos. British bombs are destroying British-funded aid projects. But despite all this, the murderous leaders of British imperialism remain steadfastly behind their oil-rich dictators in the Gulf.

Yemen is a country of key strategic importance. It has natural gas reserves of more than 478.5 billion cubic metres, and oil reserves of three billion barrels. It is located at a major ‘chokepoint’ for international trade – Bab El Mandeb – through which 3.3 million barrels of oil are transported every day. Yemen must stay under imperialist influence for their world domination to continue. So it should come as no surprise that the US, Britain, and other major imperialist powers are deeply involved in the war in Yemen.

The war on Yemen began in March 2015, following the deposing of imperialist-backed President Hadi by the Ansar Allah (Houthi) insurgency. The Houthis are loosely aligned with Iran, and state the eradication of jihadist groups in Yemen is a major objective of their insurgency. They fight alongside a variety of other Yemeni groups. Since March, a coalition of forces from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Egypt, Sudan, Jordan, and Morocco have waged a brutal war to reinstate Hadi. They have maintained a land and sea blockade, despite Yemen relying on imports for 90% of its basic needs. Air-strikes have rained down indiscriminately on Houthi-controlled areas including:

  • Five schools which were bombed between August and October 2015, killing five (Amnesty);
  • A ceramics factory which was destroyed by a British-made cruise missile on 23 September;
  • The Noor Centre for the Blind which was hit on 5 January;
  • A Medecin Sans Frontieres (MSF) health clinic which was hit on 10 January, killing four – the fourth MSF facility hit since October.

British imperialism provides the weapons

Much of the equipment which has been used to commit these war crimes has come from Britain. Half of the planes being used by the coalition are British-made Tornadoes and Eurofighters. Britain has remained the main arms supplier to Saudi Arabia throughout the onslaught. Between June and August last year Britain granted more than £1 billion of arms export licences to Saudi Arabia – over 100 times more than before the war. 49 separate licences were granted, with none refused. The vast majority of these were for bombs and missiles to replace those which had been dropped on Yemen.

British military personnel are on the ground supporting the assault. Sky News reported that six of the 94 British military personnel abroad with unspecified ‘coalition’ forces were embedded with the Saudi-coalition (7 January). But this number could be much higher. In parliament, Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond explained: ‘I can’t tell you whether it is six people but we do have a military presence in Saudi Arabia’. Hammond assured parliament that British forces were there to help select targets, and to carry out a ‘quick check’ when potential violations of humanitarian law were reported. A UN panel has prepared a report in which it accuses the coalition of at least 119 breaches of humanitarian law (27 January). David Cameron refused to launch an enquiry into British arms sales to Saudi Arabia when questioned about this by the Labour Party.

Ruling class opposition

Opposition to the British government’s support for the war is now coming from ruling class figures, concerned not by the suffering of the people of Yemen, but by contradictions in imperialist strategy. Yemen has been a major recipient of British development aid since being identified as a ‘failing state’ after the 11 September 2001 World Trade Centre attacks. In the last five years Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) has spent £227 million on projects in Yemen. Any gains made by this spending have been obliterated by British bombs. DFID-funded aid programmes run by Oxfam and Save the Children have been hit by Saudi airstrikes. Former International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell (of plebgate fame) highlights this perverse contradiction: ‘Britain’s humanitarian and foreign policy are pursuing different ends... The Yemenis are being pulverised by the Saudis while we try to get aid in through ports which are being blockaded and while British ordnance is being dropped there.’ (Telegraph, 14 December).

The primary objective of DFID programmes in Yemen was never to help the Yemeni people, but instead to create a stable, pliant government. A public justification for the focus on Yemen following the World Trade Centre attacks was that it would stop the country becoming a major base for jihadist terrorism. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have long been strong in Yemen. However, the current war has led to the expansion of a Yemeni branch of IS. Frances Guy, a former British ambassador to Yemen, explained: ‘We should be talking about Yemen in the context of security; asking where is the next place that Isis [IS] will go after any success by the US, France, and now the UK, in Syria. The answer is Yemen.’ (The Independent, 27 November).

The savage war on Yemen exposes the mess of contradictions which make up imperialist strategy in a world in crisis. Despite the £227 million spent ostensibly to prevent the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and alleviate poverty in Yemen, Britain has sold weapons worth at least twenty-two times this amount to support a war in which AQAP and IS have been major beneficiaries. Yemen has been left poorer than ever. Every area of significant IS activity is also an area which has been devastated by Britain and other imperialist powers. With every coalition air-strike, with every IS suicide bomb, Britain is among those with blood on its hands.

Toby Harbertson

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 249 February/March 2016


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