Senator McCain 'backs Yemen'

An American congressional delegation led by former Republican presidential candidate John McCain arrived in Yemen yesterday on a summer junket touring “post-war zones and forward operating bases” which also includes Libya, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, and … er … Iceland (!).

Presumably arch-neocon John Bolton will not be criticising this in the Washington Post (as he did with Bill Clinton’s “unwise” trip to North Korea), but the visit has certainly been spun in Sana’a as a sign of US support for President Salih’s policies. The Yemen Observer says:

McCain confirmed the US desire to support Yemen to enhance its security and stability, which he said is essential for the stability of the entire region. McCain expressed satisfaction at the level of relations and cooperation between the US and Yemen, particularly in the fight against terror.

The Senators also stressed their encouragement and support for American businessmen and other companies investing in Yemen.

For his part, President Saleh appreciated US support for Yemen particularly in the fields of fighting terror, saying that terror is an international epidemic that threatens security and peace worldwide.

Meanwhile, Yemeni government sources are claiming success in their military onslaught against the Houthi rebels. One of the rebel leaders, Hussein Kamza, was reportedly killed on Sunday and a local official in Saada said al-Safra district “has been cleared of all rebels”.

The defence ministry has gone so far as to claim the end of the Houthi rebellion is “drawing near”, according to the Yemen Observer. In a speech on Sunday defence minister Mohammad Nasser Ahmed Ali said: "The elements of rebellion and terrorism in Saada ... have been hit hard today by the army ... They have incurred heavy losses and have been paralysed." Government forces "have captured some of the rebels who will be brought to justice," he said without saying how many.

The government account of the “kidnapping” of 15 Red Crescent workers (reported last week) now appears to have been exaggerated. "They were only held for a few hours, the main thing that happened was that an ambulance was taken from them," a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross said in Geneva yesterday.

Perhaps the most alarming development is that the nature of the Saada conflict seems to be changing (with the government’s blessing) from a war that was primarily between the rebels and the military into a tribal/religious civil war between militias. As Nicole Stracke noted in the Khaleej Times on Sunday …

Both the Yemeni army and Houthis have used tribal forces in the conflict. But of late, a larger number of tribes, who initially had taken a neutral stance in the conflict, have become involved. In provinces such Al Jawf, it was the [Sunni] Islah Party that called on the tribes last month to establish armed militias to fight the [Shia] Houthi forces in order to counter their advance in the area.

Yesterday, the official Saba news agency reported that “masses from many tribes of all the country's governorates are heading willingly for Saada governorate to take part in the fight against the Houthi rebels”. It continued:

Well-informed sources said that businessmen and merchantmen have begun donating money to the security and armed forces fighting against rebels.

Hundreds of thousands of youths have announced their readiness from different governorates to battle to the insurgents in the governorate of Saada.

This is seriously bad news and will surely drive Yemen further down the road to becoming a failed state.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 18 August 2009.