Dec 4th 2017
IT WAS an unceremonious end for an Arab leader who had dominated his country for decades. On December 4th Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s former dictator, was killed outside the capital Sana’a, which has been paralysed by a week of fighting. A video circulated online showed his bloodied body wrapped in a blanket, surrounded by militiamen. State television called the former president “the leader of the traitors”. His death is likely to escalate a three-year civil war that has laid waste to the country. It was also a microcosm of Yemen’s complexity: Mr Saleh was killed by former foes who had become allies, only to become enemies again.
Mr Saleh, 75, was a military man who took control of North Yemen in 1978, then led the civil war that reunified the divided country in 1994. During a rule of over two decades, he and his allies were accused of plundering billions from the Arab world’s poorest state. He also fought a vicious war against the Houthis, a group including a large number of Zaidi Shia Muslims, who felt marginalised by the government. Mr Saleh faced mass protests in 2011, during the Arab spring, and survived an assassination attempt that left him severely burned. The Gulf States finally forced him out the following year and replaced him with his vice-president, Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
A United Nations-backed political transition soon floundered, in part because the Houthis still felt disenfranchised. In late 2014 their fighters stormed Sana’a, to the relief of many frustrated with Mr Hadi’s inept rule. They also found an unlikely alliance in Mr Saleh, who saw a way back to political relevance. Within six months their forces had reached the southern port city of Aden. But the Houthis also proved terrible at governing—and their success prompted an intervention by Saudi Arabia, which has long meddled with its southern neighbour.
For more than two years a Saudi-led coalition has battered Yemen with air strikes. At least 10,000 people have been killed, most of them civilians. Disease and hunger have become widespread. The conflict has become another front in the proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which provides limited support to the Houthis. For all its military might, the Saudi-led coalition has struggled to defeat a much weaker foe. Twice in the past month, the Houthis even managed to launch ballistic missiles at Saudi Arabia. (Both were intercepted.)
Mr Saleh commanded a network of tribal fighters. Last week he suddenly ended his three-year partnership with the Houthis. Backed by Saudi warplanes, his men captured large parts of the capital. In a televised speech on December 2nd, Mr Saleh condemned the “recklessness” of his former Houthi allies and called for a dialogue with the Saudi-led coalition. But within days he suffered a dramatic reversal. The Houthis recaptured most of the territory they lost and besieged the area around the ex-president’s home, which they later blew up. More than 120 people were killed in Sana’a over the past week, according to the Red Cross. The former president was one of them.
His death is an embarrassment for Saudi Arabia, particularly the young crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman, who has suffered a string of recent foreign policy failures. It will probably open a new front in the war, between the Houthis and Mr Saleh’s tribal loyalists, the latter of whom now lack a leader. Mr Saleh’s son, Ahmed, is close to the United Arab Emirates, and may seek to fill his father’s shoes, keeping the fighters on the coalition’s side. So might General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, a onetime Saleh loyalist who now serves as Mr Hadi’s vice-president. But the most likely outcome is an even more splintered battlefield. Further misery lies ahead for Yemen’s 28m people, three-quarters of whom need humanitarian aid. Mr Saleh once compared ruling Yemen to “dancing on the heads of snakes.” In the end, even this consummate political survivor could not avoid being bitten.
Former Yemeni President Killed: The Price of Betrayal
By Stephen Lendman
December 05, 2017
Ali Abdullah Saleh ruled Yemen despotically from May 1990 until ousted in February 2012 – earlier ruling North Yemen from 1978 to 1990.
He sided with Houthi fighters against Saudi Arabia until betraying them – shifting his allegiance to the kingdom, saying:
“I call upon the brothers in neighbouring states and the alliance to stop their aggression, lift the siege, open the airports and allow food aid and the saving of the wounded and we will turn a new page by virtue of our neighbourliness.”
The Houthi controlled interior ministry accused him of “creating chaos by working with militias of aggression, helping extremist militants,” the group’s political bureau adding:
“It is not strange or surprising that Saleh turns back on a partnership he never believed in. The priority has been and still is to confront the forces of aggression.”
On December 4, Houthi fighters blew up his home in Sanaa, media reports saying he was killed en route to Marib, his death confirmed by a senior aide, a video of his alleged body posted online by the Houthis, showing a severe head wound.
On Monday, Houthi al-Masriah television said
“(t)he leader of treason has been killed.”
Its media official Abdel-Rahman al-Ahnomi said he was killed, trying to flee to Saudi Arabia through Marib.
Heavy fighting has been ongoing in Sanaa for days, Saudi terror-bombing striking Houthi positions. Their fighters now control the city, according to reports, many Saleh loyalists defecting to their forces.
The UN called for a humanitarian halt in fighting to let civilians get out of harm’s way, enabling aid workers to reach them, the wounded able to get medical treatment.
UN humanitarian coordinator in Yemen Jamie McGoldrick said streets in Sanaa are “battlegrounds.” Aid workers “remain in lockdown.”
Sanaa-based Norwegian Refugee Council protection and advocacy advisor Suze van Meegen said fighting in the city “completely paralyse(ed) humanitarian operations,” adding:
“No one is safe in Sanaa at the moment. I can hear heavy shelling outside now and know it is too imprecise and too pervasive to guarantee that any of us are safe.”
Regional ICRC director Robert Mardini tweeted:
“The night was tough. Massive urban clashes with heavy artillery and airstrikes. Yemenis stuck in their homes, too scared to go out. Reduced access to water, health care, food and fuel.”
An unnamed woman said
“(i)t’s like horror movies. I have lived through many wars but nothing like this.”
Explosions rock the city, defenceless civilians at risk of death or severe injuries. Bodies of dead and wounded lie in streets unattended, fighting too fierce for anyone to venture out, hundreds killed or wounded since last Wednesday.
Defection of loyalist Saleh forces to the Houthis marks a significant turn in the war, ongoing for nearly three years, causing the world’s gravest humanitarian crisis.
On Monday, Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul Salam claimed significant gains in the battle for Sanaa, saying:
“With the aid and approval of God, the security forces backed up by wide popular support were able last night to cleanse the areas in which the militias of treason and betrayal were deployed.”
Will Trump order aerial attacks on Houthi fighters in Sanaa, aiding Saudi terror-bombing? Will US-orchestrated aggression escalate, intensifying the humanitarian crisis?
Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the CRG, Correspondent of Global Research based in Chicago.