"Ian Rankin once explained to an interviewer (the head of the Indian Communist Party!) that crime fiction is a way of talking about social inequality. Ron Jacobs applies that same maxim to the Sixties... in his wonderfully noir trilogy of those exhilarating and troubled times. And what Rankin does for Edinburgh, Jacobs amply illuminates for the Movement. Much much more than ripping yarns (though they are that too), from a master who's been there, done that, and lived to tell a tale or two."
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
War On Terror or War On Disaffected Yemenis?
In recent months, parts of Yemen have come under attack by Saudi Arabian forces backing the government there. In recent weeks, the Saudis have been supported by the US military. It seems quite likely that there is more to the growing likelihood of deeper US military involvement in Yemen than the visit of the wannabe bomber Mr. Abdulmutallab. Saudi Arabia and North Yemen fought a war in 1934 when a prince formerly aligned with Ibn Saud switched allegiance to the Yemeni Prince King Yahya, Although Riyadh supported the Zaydi monarchist predecessors (Zaydi Imams) to the Houthi rebels in the 1962 republican revolution in North Yemen, it now supports the successors to those it opposed in 1962 (the Saleh regime). This support is religious and geopolitically based, with the Saleh government being primarily Sunni (with Wahabbist leanings) and the opposition being Shia. The fact that the conflict is primarily occurring in a province on Saudi Arabia's borders explains Riyadh's concerns with regard to geography. he victory of the north Yemeni forces began a period that saw increasing repression of forces opposed to Saleh, with human rights groups documenting torture, displacement and extrajudicial killings. Since the defeat of the Zaydi Imams in 1962 by the forerunners of the current Yemeni government, the northwestern province of Sa'adah has been ignored by the Yemeni regime, leaving it to founder economically. Over the years this has naturally caused resentment. By 2004, a full-blown insurgency in Sa'adah shifted the Yemeni military's interest to this historically ignored region. This rebellion is known as the Houthi insurgency because of its leadership by dissident cleric Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi (rumored to have been killed in US and Saudi airstrikes in November 2009).
South Yemen was a protectorate and colony of Britain until it achieved independence in 1967 after a struggle led by socialist revolutionaries. After North and South Yemen reunited in 1990, Saleh refused to grant the former members of the Democratic Republic of South Yemen power commensurate with their support. This fact and a desire by the Marxist former leaders of South Yemen for more progressive social policies led to civil war in 1994. Saleh's government was backed militarily by Saudi Arabia. In 2009, renewed resistance against the Yemeni regime began in southern Yemen led by leftist-leaning forces. Yemeni military forces have met this popular uprising with overt and often violent repression.
On to all this, one must add the group that calls itself Al Qaida of Yemen (AQY). While it seems unlikely that this group (if it is truly a terrorist group and not some kind of black op) is carrying out specific orders of Bin Laden or one of the dozens of supposed Al Qaida leaders, it is reasonable to say that its members are inspired by the philosophy and actions of groups nominally known as Al Qaida. However, as far as the Yemeni regime is concerned, its existence in Yemen in the minds of Washington and the rest of the west is quite useful. After all, if the Pentagon is willing to escalate its low-scale conflict to a full fledged war in the name of fighting terrorism, than Saleh and his military can gain an advantage against the two insurgencies currently being waged against his regime. By claiming that the terrorists are either aligned with one or both of the insurgencies or are at least located in territories controlled by them, Saleh's regime can direct US airstrikes at those areas of the country. This will most likely disrupt not only the supposed terror cells, but will also interrupt the insurgencies. If it is the Yemeni air force that conducts the raids, it will be with US weaponry that will soon be on its way. In addition, the likelihood of attacks against the insurgencies increases should the Yemen government convince the US to let them run the show (with US supervision). Naturally, military action on this scale will also kill and wound civilians, thereby increasing the likelihood of alliances between the insurgents and AQY, neatly sewing the three elements together and continuing Saleh's continued rule. I am simultaneously reminded of Israel's use of US weaponry and funds to subdue the Palestinians and Washington's deal with Pakistan's Musharraf after 9-11.
Like Afghanistan, Yemen is a very poor country. It is also somewhat unstable politically, as the above paragraphs describe. Its proximity to Saudi Arabia raises some concerns for Washington primarily because of its fear that the ideas informing the insurgencies might inspire Saudi Arabia's disenfranchised masses and upset the oil teat America depends on. Also, like Afghanistan, it can be argued that its best promise for stability and a decent life for its citizens was when it had a socialist oriented government--a regime subverted with considerable help from the United States.