Updated: Oct 31, 2022
While the world was busy witnessing the lightning takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban after a 20- year war, another war in the Islamic world is going on for more than 7 years now involving the USA.
But unlike the Afghan war, this war seems to be headed nowhere; with endless blood, hunger, devastation, thousands of civilian casualties which has led the UN to declare the situation in Yemen the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis”.
Now the Biden administration, in a reversal of its predecessor’s policy towards the war, has decided to withdraw its support from Saudi Arabia- led conflict with Yemen. President Biden said that the Saudi-led war in Yemen "has to end," as he pledged to end "all American support for offensive operations." The U.S. also removed the Houthis from being designated as a foreign terrorist organization and took them off the Specially Designated Global Terrorist list.
Yemen is situated at the southern end of the Arabian peninsula in Western Asia. It is the 2nd largest Arabian sovereign state in the peninsula. It is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the North, the Red sea by the West, the Gulf of Aden to the South, and Oman to the East. Yemen’s territory encompasses more than 200 islands including the “Socotra Islands” in the Guardafui Channel in the south.
Yemeni people are mainly of Arab ethnicity with 92% following Islam as their religion. It is a Sunni majority country with around 65% of Muslims adhering to it and the rest 35% belonging to the Shia community. Yemen is a member of the Arab League, a Non-aligned Movement, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and the UNO. Modern-day Yemen came into being in 1990, with the unification of the northern and southern part controlled/backed by the Saudi-US coalition and the erstwhile USSR, respectively.
Since 1978, northern Yemen was ruled by a leader called Ali Abdul Saleh or President Saleh, whose government was backed fully by the Saudis and Americans. With the unification of the northern and southern parts after the fall of the USSR, Saleh increased his influence to rule the whole of Yemen. He led modern Yemen after 1990. In the early to late 2000s, some resistance was starting to grow in Yemen with several political/pressure groups wanting to demarcate their own territory. One of these groups was Houthis, which represented the minority Shia-Zaidi community, named after its leader Hussein-al-Houthi.
THE ARAB WORLD
This was a phenomenon witnessed in middle-eastern and North African countries in the early 2010s, which saw the demand for democracy turning violent in long-time dictators-ruled countries. And Yemen was no exception.
The Arab spring started in Tunisia and hit several other countries in the coming time including Egypt, Syria, and Libya. Amid the growing pressure on the Yemeni government, President Saleh stepped down from the throne and was forced to hand over power to his Deputy- A. Mansur Hadi. But President Hadi was unable to solve many of the problems that his predecessors had and proved to be a complete failure which gave the Houthis movement the much-needed momentum to take over Yemen.
The Houthis movement, officially known as “Ansar Allah” (supporter of God) is
an Islamic – religious, armed movement that originated in 1990 in the northern
Yemen in 1990 in Sa’dah. With complete backing from Iran, a Shia majority country, the Houthis led by the Houthis brothers was able to annex the capital city of Sana’a in 2014 and hence, forced the President into exile. In its effort to restrain the Iranian influence in the Islamic world and retain hegemony in the middle-east and also have a safe neighborhood, Saudi Arabia got involved in the conflict and to defenestrate the Houthis out of power. And in this process, converted Yemen into a fighting yard for Islamic dominance between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The conflict escalated dramatically when Saudi Arabia along with other Sunni-dominated countries carried out airstrikes against Houthis in 2015, just a year after the takeover of the capital by the Houthis. Things got so ugly at that point of time that India had to carry out “Operation Raahat” in 2015 to evacuate its citizens from the war-torn country. These attacks were backed by the US, UK & France. They justified their support as they were trying to restore the Hadi government which was still the recognized government by the UN.
The reversal of policy on Yemen by the USA is significant as America being a staunch ally of Saudi Arabia more than participated in the conflict from Bush to Obama to Trump.
Because of the crisis, the UN called for diplomatic dialogue between warring parties. The agreement for ceasefire and peace was reached at an UN-mediated meeting held in Stockholm in December 2018 and signed in the city of Hodeidah, Yemen. According to
the UN, a ceasefire came into effect in the city of Hodeidah and 3 ports of Ras, Isa, & Saleef. Under the agreement, Houthis would withdraw its forces from the ports of Hodeidah under the watch of a UN observer committee.
STRATEGIC LOCATIONS AND AGREEMENTS
In July 2019, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a key ally of Saudi Arabia in the war, facing international criticism of its conduct announced a withdrawal of its forces from Yemen. In August, fighting erupted in the south between Saudi-backed government forces and an ostensibly allied southern separatist movement supported by the UAE, the Southern Transitional Council (STC). Forces loyal to the STC, which accused Mr. Hadi of mismanagement and links to Islamists, seized control of Aden and refused to allow the cabinet to return until Saudi Arabia brokered a power-sharing deal that November.
The UN hoped the agreement would clear the way for a political settlement to end the civil war, but in January 2020, there was a sudden escalation in hostilities between the Houthis and coalition-led forces, with fighting on several front lines, missile strikes, and air raids. In April 2020 the STC declared self-rule in Aden, breaking a peace deal signed with
the internationally recognized government, saying it would govern the port city and southern provinces.
Saudi Arabia announced a unilateral ceasefire the same month due to the coronavirus pandemic but the Houthis rejected it, demanding the lifting of air and sea blockades in Sanaa and Hudaydah. It is located near the strait which connects the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. A large amount of oil trade is dependent on this route. What happens in Yemen can greatly exacerbate regional tensions. It also worries the West because of
the threat of attacks - such as from al-Qaeda or IS affiliates -emanating from the country as it becomes more unstable.
The conflict is also seen as part of a regional power struggle between Shia-ruled Iran and Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia. India has major interests in the middle-east and whatever happens, becomes a concern for India naturally as it depends on the region for its oil and other resources. Therefore, it always has to balance its policy very carefully to avoid supply disturbances.
TRAGEDY OF THE PEOPLE
The UN had verified the deaths of at least 7,700 civilians by March 2020, with most caused by Saudi-led coalition airstrikes. Monitoring groups believe that the death toll is far higher. The US-based Armed the Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) said in October 2019 that it had recorded more than 100,000 fatalities, including 12,000 civilians killed indirect attacks. More than 23,000 fatalities were reported in 2019, making it the second most lethal year of the war so far.
Media caption the sick children trapped by war in Yemen. Thousands more civilians have died from preventable causes, including malnutrition, disease, and poor health. The charity Save the Children estimated that 85,000 children with severe acute malnutrition might have died between April 2015 and October 2018. About 80% of the population - 24 million people - need humanitarian assistance and protection.
Image credits: The Atlantic
Some 20 million people need help securing food, according to the UN. Almost 10 million of them are considered "one step away from famine". Media caption The hidden victims of the Yemen war. An estimated 2 million children are acutely malnourished, including almost 360,000 children under five years old who are struggling to survive. With only half of the country's 3,500 medical facilities fully functioning, almost 20 million people lack access to adequate healthcare. And almost 18 million do not have enough clean water or access to adequate sanitation.
Consequently, medics have struggled to deal with the largest Cholera outbreak ever recorded, which has resulted in more than 2.2 million suspected cases and 3,895 related deaths since October 2016. The United Nations has warned that the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic could "exceed the combined toll of war, disease, and hunger over the last five years." The UN also issued a desperate plea for financial aid saying its operations in the country, including vital health services, were severely underfunded.
The war has displaced more than 3.65 million from their homes. The future looks very bleak for the Yemeni people for the time being.