Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Update on Yemen War: Massacres with a Small Chance of Peace

Tentative good news out of Yemen today as Reuters reports that the combatants have apparently agreed to a ceasefire effective April 10, one week of ahead of formal UN peace talks on April 18.

The news comes shortly after one of the most deadly airstrikes of the conflict occurred last week. The Saudi-led coalition, which is backed and supplied by the US, launched an airstrike on a market in Hajja, which killed around 120 civilians according to the latest reports. This latest massacre drew criticism from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, who suggested the Saudi-led coalition could be committing "war crimes". Mr. Al Hussein also noted that he believed the coalition's airstrikes were responsible for more than twice as many civilian casualties as all other factions in the conflict. Given the inherent imprecision of airstrikes, this should not be surprising.

Readers will recall that Saudi Arabia launched the current Yemen War in response to an uprising by the Houthi rebels. The Houthis were able to force the existing government into exile and take power. The prior leader of Yemen was, for all intents and purposes, a dictator who had friendly relations with both Saudi Arabia and the US. Thus, the Saudis initiated a war in an effort to reinstall said dictator.

Notably, the Saudis claim that Iran is backing the Houthi movement and justify their policy as countering Iranian aggression. But little to no evidence has been produced in support of this claim.

Peace Talks
The news of a ceasefire and a beginning of peace talks is a welcome development. But it should be viewed with skepticism. There have been several previous attempts at peace talks and ceasefires, and none have proved successful. The likely reason for this is that the Saudi military has seemingly failed to achieve any of its stated objectives, and so the terms of a negotiated settlement would probay look a whole lot like defeat.

Predictably, the Saudi war appears to have galvanized support behind the nascent Houthi movement. Apparently, most Yemenis view domestic political movements more favorably than foreign countries that drop bombs on them.

A small chance for peace in Yemen is better than no chance at all. If they fail, the war is likely to continue until Saudi Arabia starts to run up against budget constraints.

Hajja Massacre Eyewitness Account
For further reading on Yemen, we're recommending the survivor's account of the most recent airstrike. It's a quick read, and it's a helpful step towards humanizing the casualties of this sad and forgotten war.

It may be easier for most of us to imagine ourselves in a Belgian airport than an open-air market in the Middle East. But the terror and despair experienced by the victims is very much the same. We'd do well to remember that.

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