Yemen: Britain's lucrative arms trade killing civilians

Destroyed house in the south of Sanaa

Saudi-led airstrikes continues to visit death and destruction on the people of western Yemen with British and US support. Figures revealed on 16 September by the Yemen Data Project showed that one in three airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition have hit civilian targets. The UN estimates the death toll as more than 10,000, with almost 40% civilians. Despite this, British weapons sales to Saudi Arabia continue. The importance of Britain's alliance with Saudi Arabia is made consistently clear by British government efforts to block arms embargos or full investigations into the war.

Britain is the world's second largest arms exporter. British arms sales to Saudi Arabia in the 18 months since the war on Yemen began currently stand at £3.3bn. These sales sustain jobs and factories in some parts of Britain, at the expense of endless lives in Yemen. In addition, Campaign Against the Arms Trade has revealed that around 250 British MOD civil servants and military personnel work to support these contracts - funded by Saudi Arabia. As British bombs continue to be sold to Saudi Arabia, raining down in turn on Yemen, wrangling in parliament over the sales grinds on. Two of the parliamentary Committees on Arms Export Controls have called for an immediate ban on arms exports to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen and another has supported calls for a UN investigation. However, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson blocked calls for a ban or independent investigation, explaining that there was no evidence that Saudi Arabia was 'in clear breach' of humanitarian law, and that Saudi Arabia has 'the best insight into their own procedures and will be able to conduct the most thorough and conclusive investigations.' In late September, Britain also blocked an attempt led by the Netherlands to launch an EU inquiry into civilian deaths in Yemen.

In his speech to the Labour Party conference, leader Jeremy Corbyn pledged to end British arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Focus on Britain's role in the war on Yemen is clearly increasing. It is essential that anti-imperialists seize this moment in a way which can start to build effective opposition against the murderous role of British imperialism in Yemen and elsewhere.

Toby Harbertson

Britain continues to fuel slaughter in Yemen

The bloody role of British imperialism in the Saudi-led war on Yemen continues to be exposed. Figures revealed in April show that the British government has approved arms sales worth £2.8bn to Saudi Arabia since the beginning of the attack in March 2015 - £6.7bn since 2010. This is despite abundant evidence from a UN panel, charities and NGO's of systematic attacks on civilians. In mid April, the Home Office issued guidance to immigration and asylum decision makers that sending Yemeni asylum seekers back to Yemen could be a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights (Guardian, 4 April).

Amnesty International has since revealed that British-made BL-755 cluster-bombs, manufactured in the 1970s by Bedfordshire-based arms company Hunting Engineering Ltd, are among those recently used in Yemen. Cluster bombs are designed to break into smaller bombs, which often remain unexploded for years until they are disturbed. They are banned by an international treaty which 100 countries have signed up to - including Britain. The Saudi-led coalition has been using planes made by British arms company BAE Systems to drop these bombs throughout northern Yemen. Goat herders interviewed by Amnesty explained that whole areas were littered with unexploded bombs, forcing locals to attempt to clear them themselves to prevent injury to children or livestock.

Toby Harbertson

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

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

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.

Read more ...

US and Saudi war on Yemen / FRFI 231 Feb/Mar 2013

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 231 February/March 2013

In the face of an unstoppable economic crisis which is causing poverty and instability in the heartlands of global capitalism, the imperialist powers are bringing war and death to the Middle East and North Africa. To save their sinking ship, Britain and the US are turning to old allies like Saudi Arabia to aid in the brutality needed to control global resources and stamp on dissent. Assisting drone strikes on Yemeni villages, channelling arms to rebels in Syria and cracking down on the poor at home, Saudi Arabia is a trusted client of imperialism.

The US is waging an undeclared war on the impoverished population of Yemen, which it calls a partner state in the war on terrorism. It says the target of these attacks is Al Qaeda, yet they come at a time of rising discontent in the poorest country in the region. Protests continue more than a year after demonstrations brought down the autocratic, pro-imperialist president Ali Abdullah Saleh. During protests in 2009, Saudi troops and fighter jets took part in Yemen’s military crackdown on Houthi Shias in northern Yemen. In a US-sponsored transition, Saleh was replaced by his deputy Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, unopposed in ‘elections’ last year. Since then, Hadi has repeatedly given the CIA permission for drone strikes, often when there is no clear link between the target and Al Qaeda.

Figures for drone attacks in Yemen were three times higher in 2012 than 2011, for the first time totalling more than US drone strikes on Pakistan. Saudi Arabia has reportedly provided fighter jets to assist in this war. In January, The Times quoted a US intelligence source admitting that ‘some of the so-called drone missions are actually Saudi Air Force missions’. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal denied this but admitted to aiding the US by providing ‘intelligence’.

According to the Long War Journal, 223 people were killed by drones in Yemen in 2012. Any reports of deaths in the Western media are short and sketchy, usually labelling the dead ‘Al Qaeda suspects’ or ‘suspected terrorists’. A 132-word Associated Press report on 19 January reports at least eight dead as a result of a drone attack in Marib province – ‘at least three of the bodies were charred beyond recognition.’ US or Yemeni officials usually only claim responsibility when ‘senior militants’ are killed, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism: ‘Only in December – three months after a dozen civilians died in Rada’a [sic] – did anonymous US officials admit that an American drone or plane had carried out an attack.’

Protests in Yemen have now taken on an explicitly anti-US and anti-Saudi content. On 4 January, protesters in the southern town of Redaa blockaded a government building following more than five deadly attacks in ten days. One protester told Reuters, ‘If the authorities don’t stop the American attacks then we will occupy the government institutions in the town.’

There is also rising anger at the treatment of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia, who make up more than half the workforce. There have been protests as far way as Colombo, after a Sri Lankan maid was beheaded when the baby she looked after died. There are more than 45 maids awaiting execution in Saudi Arabia. On 20 January, a huge rally outside the Saudi embassy in the Yemeni capital Sana’a called for the release of Yemeni prisoners held without charge in Saudi Arabia. Last year, it was reported that an 18-year-old Yemeni youth died as a result of torture by Saudi intelligence agents. The war on Yemen is part of a war on the working class.

Louis Brehony