SANA’A, YEMEN — March 26 marks the sixth anniversary of the U.S.-backed Saudi bombing campaign in the war-torn country of Yemen and massive demonstrations took place across the country on Friday in commemoration.
Hundreds of thousands of people took the streets in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a near the besieged Sana’a International Airport, and in Hodeida, home of the country’s largest and most important seaport. In fact, thousands of Yemenis gathered in more than twenty city squares across the northern provinces, carrying Yemeni flags and holding banners emblazoned with messages of steadfastness and promises to liberate the entire country from Saudi control. Images of the demonstrations show a sea of Yemeni flags, posters bearing pictures of Houthi leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi, and the slogan “Six years of aggression — We are ready for the seventh year — We will win.”
“We are here to send a message to both the United States and Saudi Arabia that we are ready to make more sacrifices against the Saudi-led Coalition,” Nayef Haydan, a leader of the Yemeni Socialist Party and member of the Yemeni Shura Council, said. “Any peace initiative must contain a permanent end to the war, lift the blockade completely, include a detailed reconstruction program, and compensate Yemenis,” he added.
Having bombed for six years, Saudis now talk peace
For six years, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two of the richest countries on the planet, have relentlessly bombed the poorest nation in the Middle East, with crucial assistance from three consecutive U.S. administrations. For 2,160 days — six years straight — the Royal Saudi Air Force and the UAE Air Force have, with American assistance, launched nearly 600,000 airstrikes in Yemen. The bombing has targeted civilian homes, schools, hospitals, roads, funerals, food facilities, factories, mosques, water, pumps and sewage, markets, refugee camps, historical cities, fishing boats, fuel stations, a school bus full of children, and Bedouin camps, making any potential reconstruction very long and costly.
The bombing continues even as talks of new peace initiatives begin to surface. Just last Sunday, March 21, consecutive Saudi airstrikes destroyed a poultry farm in Amran province. The attack was especially egregious as Yemen is suffering from one of the most severe famines in recent history. In fact, the country faces a humanitarian, economic, and political crisis of a magnitude not seen in decades. According to the United Nations, almost 16 million Yemenis live under famine, with 2.5 million children suffering from malnutrition. And thousands of Yemeni state workers now face hunger as their salaries have gone unpaid for years after the Saudi Coalition seized control of the country’s central bank.
As the war enters its seventh year, the country’s war-weary masses face grim new milestones. The fastest growing outbreak of cholera ever recorded and outbreaks of swine flu, rabies, diphtheria and measles are among the man-made biological threats facing Yemen. Meanwhile, hundreds of Yemenis are dying of Covid-19 every day amid a collapsed and destroyed health system. Many of these diseases and crises are not natural but have been created, artificially and intentionally, by Saudi Arabia. The U.S.-backed Saudi Coalition has completely or partially destroyed at least 523 healthcare facilities and bombed at least 100 ambulances, according to a report from the Sana’a-based Ministry of Health issued last Tuesday.
Years after Saudi Arabia imposed a blockade on Yemeni ports, halting life-saving supplies, Yemenis are still suffering from a lack of food, fuel and medicine. Hodeida Port, which is the primary entry point for most of Yemen’s food imports, is still under a strict Saudi blockade; even humanitarian aid is prevented from reaching the port. Sana’a International Airport, which has been bombed heavily by the Saudi Air Force in the past two weeks, has been blocked almost since the war began, leaving thousands of medical patients to die prematurely because they were unable to travel abroad for treatment.
Yemenis for their part, have resorted to targeting the Saudi Coalition in its own backyard. Hoping that taking the battle to the Kingdom will exact enough of a toll on the Saudi monarchy to cause it to rethink its quagmire in Yemen, Houthi missiles and drones have had increasing success in striking Saudi oil infrastructure, airports and military bases, leaving Saudi soil exposed to daily bombardment for the first time since the Al Saud family established their state.
In a recent statement, the spokesman for the Ansar Allah-backed Yemen Army claimed that its Air Force had carried out more than 12,623 drone strikes and reconnaissance operations during the past six years and that, in the past two months alone, 54 high-precision ballistic missiles have been fired at vital Saudi targets, some of them deep inside Saudi Arabia.
Last Wednesday, Saudi Arabia’s Abha Airport was attacked by a number of drones, and on Friday, a facility belonging to Saudi state-owned oil giant Aramco in the Saudi capital of Riyadh was hit with six drones, causing damage to the facility, according to Yemen military sources.
Despite its enormous onslaught, lethal Western weapons, and hundreds of billions of dollars wasted on this war, Saudi Arabia has been unable to crush the will of the Yemeni people, who continue to fight for independence and sovereignty. At the end of March 2015, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman promised confidently that it would all be over within a few weeks and that Ansar Allah would quickly surrender. Now, after six years of war, Bin Salman has not only been unable to defeat The Houthis. Instead, it is The Houthis remain steadfast in their resistance and have grown even more powerful, leading to much consternation in Saudi Arabia and a half-hearted attempt by Bin Salman to ask The Houthis to accept his country’s version of peace and free the Kingdom from the quagmire it has created for itself in Yemen.
As Yemenis make their final push to recapture the strategic city of Marib, amid failed U.S. efforts to protect their Saudi ally from Houthi ballistic missiles and drones, both Washington and Riyadh have presented peace initiatives in an effort to stem the tide of Saudi Coalition military defeats. Those initiatives, however, fail to address or alleviate the humanitarian plight of Yemenis, end the war, or even lift the blockade.
Sour wine in new bottles
On March 12, U.S. Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking announced an initiative to end the war during a webinar with the Atlantic Council. The plan is essentially a recycled version of a previous proposal presented by Mohammed Bin Salman and the Trump administration one year ago in Oman, dubbed “The Joint Declaration.” It contains a matrix of Saudi principles and conditions aimed at the surrender of the Yemen Army, the Houthis, and their allies, in exchange for an end to the war. Lenderking’s initiative gives no guarantee that the Coalition will take any measures to lift its blockade and end the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
On March 22, Saudi Arabia announced its own “ceasefire initiative” to end the war it announced from Washington D.C. six years ago. Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan revealed the initiative, which would include a nationwide ceasefire under the supervision of the UN and a partial re-opening of the Sana’a International Airport to certain destinations. It also included a revenue-sharing plan that would guarantee the Saudi government access to a portion of the wealth generated by Yemen’s oil and gas deposits in Marib.
Come back when you’re serious
Both initiatives were rejected by Sana’a. “We reject the American and Saudi peace initiatives because they do not meet the demands of the Yemeni people,” Khaled Al-Sharif, chairman of the Supreme Elections Committee, said of the proposals during a meeting held in Sana’a on Monday. According to many Yemenis, including decision-makers in Sana’a, the U.S. and Saudi plans are not intended to achieve peace, but to advance their political goals in the face of an imminent military failure following six costly years of war. The measures, according to officials in Sana’a, are also about saving face and presenting an untenable plan, so that when it is inevitably rejected the tide of public opinion will turn in favor of the Saudi-led Coalition.
In a live televised speech commemorating the sixth anniversary of the war on Thursday afternoon, ِAbdulMalik al Houthi, the leader of the Houthis, refused Washington and Riyadh’s initiatives, explaining:
The Americans, the Saudis, and some countries have tried to persuade us to barter the humanitarian file for military and political agreements. We refuse that.
Access to oil products, food, medical and basic materials is a human and legal right that cannot be bartered in return for military and political extortion.
We are, [however], ready for an honorable peace in which there is no trade-off for our people’s right to freedom and independence or to Yemen’s legitimate entitlements.”
The Houthi leadership views the policies of the Biden administration as not far removed from those of his predecessor, Donald Trump. “Biden’s administration is following the same policies as those of former President Donald Trump. [They] have not offered a new plan for peace in Yemen. Washington has rather presented an old plan for the resolution of the conflict,” Ansar Allah spokesman Mohammed Abdul-Salam said, adding that the U.S. plan does not offer anything new. ”The plan has placed conditions for the opening of the Hodeida port and Sana’a International Airport, which are unacceptable,” he concluded.
No retreat, no surrender
The Houthis — empowered by six years of perseverance amid one of the most violent wars against some of the world’s most powerful military forces, not to mention the ability to reject the proposals set forth by those same powers — have little incentive to accept Riyadh’s offer. They see the end to the conflict coming from Washington in the form of an announcement of an immediate ceasefire, a departure of all foreign forces from the country, and lifting of the air and sea blockade as a pre-condition for any deal. “They should have demonstrated their seriousness for the establishment of peace by allowing food and fuel to dock at the port of Hodeida rather than put forth proposals,” Mohammed Ali al-Houthi said.
Over two thousand consecutive days of war have proven that Saudi Arabia is not ready to bring peace to war-torn Yemen. With the exception of a fragile ceasefire in Hodeida and a small number of prisoner releases, negotiations between the two sides generally reach a dead end, as Bin Salman looks for total surrender and nothing else. Numerous negotiations between Saudi Arabia and Yemen have failed, including UN-brokered peace talks in Switzerland in 2018. The Yemenis, who are now on the offensive, are unlikely to retreat or surrender. The offensive to recapture oil-rich Marib and sweep the shrinking areas that remain in Saudi control shows no signs of slowing down and, according to high-ranking military officials, the Saudi-controlled gas-rich province of Shabwa will be the next to be liberated. Moreover, retaliatory ballistic missiles and drone attacks against Saudi targets will continue.
Despite recent peace initiatives, the Saudi-led Coalition has only intensified military maneuvers in Yemen this week. Saudi warplanes are seen regularly above highly populated urban areas in the north of the country, dropping hundreds of tons of ordnance, most supplied by the United States. There is a near-consensus among the leadership of the Yemeni army and Ansar Allah that the current U.S. administration is participating in the battles taking place in the oil-rich Marib province. However, the Houthis have not directly accused the Biden administration of being involved in the fighting and are waiting for more evidence to do so. They may not have to wait long. On Tuesday, a sophisticated, U.S.-made MQ-9 Reaper drone was downed with a surface-to-air missile as it was flying over the Sirwah district in Marib.
Feature photo | A Houthi supporter holds a weapon as he attends a rally marking six years of the Saudi-led coalition war in Yemen in Sanaa, March 26, 2021. Hani Mohammed | AP
Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist based in Sana’a. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.