Nearly six months after a much-publicized deal was made in Sweden to bring an end to four years of war and the resulting humanitarian crisis in Yemen, the UN now says Houthi fighters have pulled out of the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah. But many Yemenis, including the internationally recognized government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, claim that reports of a unilateral withdrawal by Houthi forces are a "smokescreen." The limits of what has been achieved are clear from renewed clashes that have erupted in Hodeidah between Saudi-backed pro-government forces and Houthi rebels.
Amid alarmingly sketchy accounts of Iranian attacks on Saudi oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, which are said to have caused damage but no casualties, Trump has dispatched the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group to the Persian Gulf, and ordered a partial evacuation of US diplomatic staff from Iraq. An oil pipeline that runs across Saudi Arabia was also hit by drones, according to the kingdom's energy ministry. Meanwhile, Iran-backed war crimes and "sectarian cleansing" in Syria and Iraq are safely invisible to the outside world. Well, oil matters; people do not. We already knew that. But adding to the Orwellian nature of it all—the US and Iran are on the same side in Syria and Iraq. De facto in the former (where the US has tilted to Assad, rhetoric notwithstanding), de jure in the latter (where Washington and Tehran alike openly back the Baghdad regime). Let's hope that Trump's mutuality of interest with the ayatollahs (however sinister) will compel both sides to retreat from the brink before they blunder into total disaster. As always, US war moves put the civil opposition in Iran in a more difficult position, making it easier for the regime to paint them as pawns of Washington. Any anti-war position must be clear on solidarity with the people of Iran, including in their democracy struggle—emphatically not with the regime.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia executed 37 men on April 23 for terrorism-related crimes. Among those killed, 11 were accused of spying on behalf of Iran. Fourteen were convicted for offenses pertaining to anti-government protests. Most of the convicts identified as Shi'ite, and were predominantly from the country's Shia-majority eastern province. Most of the defendants were arrested between 2011-2. One was arrested when he was 16 years old.
More than 10,000 people have been reported killed in Yemen over the last five months, bringing the war's total death toll to over 70,000 since 2016, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED). While overall reported fatalities have trended downward this year amid a UN-backed peace process, fighting continues across the country and has even intensified in some areas, including the governorates of Taiz and Hajjah. The Saudi-led coalition is responsible for the highest number of reported civilian fatalities from direct targeting: over 4,800 since 2016. The Houthis and their allies are responsible for over 1,300 reported civilian fatalities from direct targeting. (ACLED, Madison, WI, April 18)
The current revelations of Trump administration efforts to transfer sensitive nuclear material to Saudi Arabia bring into focus the grim implications of the pull-out from the Iran nuclear deal. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif takes the opportunity to tweet about "US hypocrisy," while the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, an Israeli security think-tank, gleefully quotes a recent comment by Ahmad Khatami, a senior member of Iran's Assembly of Experts, that Tehran possess the "formula" to build a nuclear bomb, although he added that there "no intention of using a weapon of mass destruction." (Emphasis ours) The outrage was revealed when the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform issued a report yesterday, after receiving whistleblower complaints of "efforts inside the White House to rush the transfer of highly sensitive US nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia in potential violation of the Atomic Energy Act (AEA) and without review by Congress as required by law—efforts that may be ongoing to this day." The report reveals the key figure pushing for the transfers as Trump's hard-right ex-National Security Advisor Mike Flynn, who now awaits sentencing on charges of lying to the FBI.
The US House of Representatives passed House Joint Resolution 37 on Feb. 13, calling for the withdrawal of US armed forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen. The resolution states that only Congress has the authority to declare war, and notes that Congress has not made any declaration of war against the Houthi rebels in Yemen, who are the target of Saudi-led forces. US armed forces have supported Saudi Arabia through aerial targeting assistance, intelligence sharing, and mid-flight aerial refueling. The resolution gives President Donald Trump 30 days to withdraw forces from hostilities in or affecting Yemen. Forces which are involved in operations directed at al-Qaeda in the region are exempt from the resolution. The resolution also does not restrict the sharing of intelligence. It also specifies that the resolution does not impact military operations undertaken in cooperation with Israel.
The secretary general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization executive committee, Saeb Erekat, issued a statement rejecting the US-led conference that opens today in Warsaw, ostensibly aimed at brokering Middle East peace. Said Erekat: "Today we face a reality whereby the US Trump administration, in cooperation with the Polish government, is pushing yet a new initiative to annihilate the Palestinian national project." (Ma'an) The meeting was first announced last month by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after his anti-Iran speech in Cairo, and is widely perceived as an effort to rally world powers behind Washington's drive against Tehran. Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner is to be among the speakers. Poland has been making some efforts to resist turning the conference into a propagandistic anti-Iran meeting, underscoring its commitment to the nuclear deal that the US has now disavowed. But as Warsaw's former ambassador to Afghanistan Piotr Lukasiewicz told Al Jazeera: "[Poland] has lost control over the general message of the conference to the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia." The notable absentees from the summit are meanwhile convening their own meeting in the Russian ski resort of Sochi. The rival summit is bringing together Vladimir Putin, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iran's Hassan Rouhani, officiallty to discuss the situation in Syria and the pending withdrawal of US troops there. (EuroNews)
The UN Committee against Torture posted a letter online Dec. 11 that calls on Saudi Arabia to release over a dozen imprisoned activists and cites credible claims of improper treatment, sexual assault and torture. The UN group charged with overseeing compliance with the Convention Against Torture claims that seven activists have been held without official charges since May 2018 and subjected to inhumane treatment. The monitoring group also called for another six peaceful activists to be released, including Raif Badawi, a blogger who has been publicly lashed and is currently serving a 10-year sentence for expressing dissenting opinions. The statement calls for a review of cases of corporal punishment to ensure that Saudi Arabia is upholding its obligations under the Convention Against Torture.