Apocalyptic Numbers: The Saudi-Trump War on Yemen

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Three years ago this month, the then 29-year-old Minister of Defense of Saudi Arabia (now its crown prince) launched a ruinous war on Yemen.

Yemen had been in Saudi Arabia’s back pocket in the 1990s and 2000s, and was a major recipient of Saudi aid, which went into the pockets of dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh. Yemen’s people remained desperately poor, and the Saudis then tried to spread their intolerant form of Wahhabism even among Zaydi Shiites, producing a backlash in the form of the Houthis.

In 2011-2012 Saleh was overthrown and Yemen began working on a new constitution and new parliamentary elections.

That process was interrupted by a 2014-2015 Houthi coup in covert alliance with the deposed Saleh. In turn that coup provoked the then 29 year old defense minister, Mohammed bin Salman, to launch an air war on the Houthi guerrilla movement, a war he was most unlikely to win.

I’ve been to Yemen several times. The terrain is mountainous and rough. You can’t bomb it into submission.

Bin Salman charges the Houthis with being Iranian agents. They aren’t, however, the right kind of Shiites for that. Iran has likely given them a little bit of aid, but it is minor compared to the billions of dollars worth of bombs from the US and the UK that Bin Salman has dropped on civilian apartment buildings in downtown Sana’a. It is rich that the Saudis wax hysterical about some small rockets aimed at Riyadh while they are daily flying bombing raids on Yemeni cities with F-16s and F-18s.

The propaganda about Iran being behind Yemen unrest rather than Saleh’s corruption that the Saudis enabled has roped in gullible generals in Washington, DC, who have actively been aiding the Saudi war effort. This is an old tradition. Eisenhower invaded Lebanon in 1958 because Chamoun told him that Druze villagers were part of the internatiional Communist conspiracy.

Saudi Arabia and its allies bombed indiscriminately. A third of their targets have been civilian buildings like schools or hospitals or key civilian infrastructure like bridges. Perhaps half the people they’ve killed have been civilian non-combatants, including children.

Also deadly have been the public health effects of the war.

The numbers on the Saudi-led Yemen War are apocalyptic, worse even than Syria.

The total number of people in need of humanitarian assistance in Yemen is 22.2 million – or 76% of the population – including 11.3 million children.

The Saudis and allies have hit Yemen with 15,000 airstrikes.

5,000 children have been killed.

8,700 civilians have been killed

50,000 civilians have been wounded

1.9 million children are not in school, and both sides have recruited children, some as young as ten, as fighters

11.3 million children need humanitarian assistance, with many on the verge of going hungry.

All in all, 22.2 million Yemenis of all ages need humanitarian assistance, 3/4s of the population.

There have been a million cholera cases and there is the threat of another outbreak.


VICE: “How The U.S. Is Helping Saudi Arabia Fight A Controversial War In Yemen“

8 Responses

  1. Thank you for this clear statement of facts about the tragedy in Yemen and who is responsible for it. It is getting tiresome to hear the media constantly refer to the “Saudi coalition” and “Iran-backed Houthis”, as though Iran and Saudi Arabia are equally guilty for what it going on. Iran might have provided some support for the Houthis, but it is the young aggressive Saudi strongman who is mainly responsible for this catastrophe. Even President Obama correctly stated that Iran had warned the Houthis not to occupy Sana’a.

    With Yemen surrounded by Saudi Arabia and with a naval blockade even the UN is not able to send food to the starving millions, let alone Iran being able to send missiles and other weapons to the Houthis. The truth of the matter is that as the “Arab Spring” toppled many autocratic Saudi allies and got close to Saudi Arabia in the form of the uprisings in Bahrain and Yemen, the Saudis tried to distort the nature of the uprisings by blaming them on sectarian conflicts. The uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya clearly had nothing to do with the Shi’a versus Sunni conflict, but as in Yemen and Syria the Houthis and the Alawites belonged to some forms of Shi’ism the Saudis started a sectarian war and blamed their enemies of waging a Shi’a war. It is sad that when this catastrophe is continuing President Trump exhibits a chart showing the billions of dollars of weapons that are sold to the Saudis, and saying that such sums are peanuts to the Saudis. They may be peanuts to the self-styled royal princes who spend hundreds of millions on private yachts, chateaus and paintings, there is real poverty in Saudi Arabia with very high rate of unemployment, especially among young people and foreign workers being expelled even without paying them their back pay. It is time for the US Congress to put an end to the carnage in Yemen. Here is a link to a good article which shows the extent of the suffering of the Yemenis:
    link to opendemocracy.net

    • Farhang Jananpour, most of the world’s Sunnis see Yemen through the sectarian Iran versus Saudi Arabia lens. If you want to win support in the Sunni world or have any credibility among Sunnis you need to strongly condemn Iran’s policies in Yemen; that is if you want to also condemn KSA. Currently the coverage of Yemen in the Sunni world press is very different from what you read.

      The only solution in Yemen is an understanding between KSA and Iran and a national unity government in Yemen that includes all the major Yemenese factions.

      Kim Rose, the KSA role is Yemen is CAS for their Yemense allies, equipment, logistics, training. KSA’s Yemenese allies don’t need KSA ground troops to win the war.

      Time is limited. KSA’s Yemenese allies are slowly militarily defeating Iran’s Yemenese allies. Once KSA’s Yemenese allies take all the port cities, cutting off Iranian resupply, it is game over for Iran’s Yemenese allies. This is why it is important to push for a national unity government as soon as possible.

      • The Houthis are Arabs, and Zaydi Shiism is actually fairly close to Sunnism. They did not come to power with significant help from Iran and they are a Yemeni movement. This Iran condemnation you bring up is a canard. And by the way lots of Sunni countries declined Saudi pressure to get involved, including Pakistan.

        • Juan Cole we agree about the Houthis and Zaydi fiverism. I am deeply sympathetic to both. The Houthis are not and have never been America’s enemy. America should reach out to them [not that the it would make any difference to the KSA led coalition].

          To clarify what Juan is saying for readers, the Zaydi fivers do not strongly condemn the Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, the other four Hadiths, and Sira the way the sixers and twelvers do. They try to avoid conflict with Sunnis including through creative linguistic flourishes. [The Sufis are even better at this; they remain nominally Sunni while being best friends with Shia.]

          Pakistan is quietly involved despite the vote of parliament. The KSA military is full of Pakistani advisors. However Pakistani combat units are not involved, which is what the vote addressed.

          This said, there are Pakistanis who are trying to end Pakistan’s involvement. They “NEED” to strongly condemn Iran to also be able to critique the Hadi government and very lightly offer constructive feedback to the Saudis [it isn’t safe to criticize KSA too much inside Pakistan].

          The Sunni press (including in Pakistan, the Arabic press, and Indonesian press) covers this war very differently.

          I want a cease fire as soon as possible. Outside of Iran (and for many factions within Iran) the Shia world doesn’t want to make the Hadi government the battle royale with KSA. This is a very dumb way to fight KSA on KSA’s turf.

          Neither Hadi nor Houthis can decisively win this war. Only a coalition government is legitimate. Let us achieve this as soon as possible.

          Then the world needs to develop a long term strategy to deal with the extremist parts (not all) of the ideas of ibn Taymiyyah and Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. Note that there are many very good quietist Salafis (and the subset of Salafi called Wahhabi) continuing their spiritual practice; this has nothing to do with them. Muslims need freedom of art, thought, intuition and feeling. Muslims need the right to engage in dialogue without fear of violence. And extremism will die.

  2. yes it is a terrible war sustained by our tax dollars and the US help. So terrible, the US always bombs the poorest nations on earth rather than help them! it is the US arm industry, jobs, jobs, jobs! no actually there would be more jobs if the money was spent locally in our states. It immoral and disgusting.

    • If it was not for the U.S. arms industry, hundreds of thousands of Americans would be unemployed – but you would likely have a balanced federal budget.

      Anti-Americanism in Yemen has been fueled by drone strikes initiated by the U.S. that has killed innocent civilians as “collateral damage”.

      Thousands of Yemenis have immigrated to the U.S. to escape the unrest in Yemen that has occurred in various forms in the last 30 years. The country itself is extremely poor with high unemployment and long lines at gasoline stations.

      America needs to help the Yemeni people not bomb them.

  3. It is narrated on the authority of Abu Huraira that the Messenger of Allah (may peace and blessings be upon him) observed:

    The belief is among the Yemenites, and the unbelief is towards the East, […]

    Sahih Muslim, The Book of Faith.

    link to sunnah.com

    Check out the map:

    link to bit.ly

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