A wedding is, for most, a once in a lifetime experience. You spend an age planning the day and it flies by in a flash, but you get to make memories that stay with you for the rest of your life.
One such wedding was taking place a few days ago, on the 22nd April 2018, but the couple will never have a chance to reminisce over their wedding album; by the end of the day at least 20 of the guests lay dead, including the bride.
But this is not a tragedy imagined in the fantastically dark mind of George R. R. Martin, this is Yemen and it is the latest in a string of civilian deaths against the backdrop of a genocide being perpetrated by the Saudi Arabia-led and US and UK backed coalition.
According to Khaled al-Nadhri, health official in the northern province of Hajja where the bombing took place, the majority of the victims were women and children gathered in a tent set up for the wedding party.
Mohammed al-Sawmali from nearby al-Jomhouri hospital confirmed, as widely reported, that at least 20 people were killed and more than 45 injured, including the groom. Around 30 children are included amongst the hurt, some suffering from shrapnel wounds and severed limbs.
It is possible that more people could have been saved, however, Yemen health ministry spokesman Abdel-Hakim al-Kahlan said that first responders, knowing the history of repeated double-tap strikes by the coalition, were at first too fearful to attempt to reach the scene as fighter jets still circled overhead. The following video has surfaced purporting to show the immediate aftermath of the bombing.
In the same weekend, reports also accuse the Saudi coalition of the bombing of a nearby house in Hajja, killing an entire family of five, as well as a further strike killing 20 more civilians, targetting a commuter bus travelling near Mozwa in western Yemen, close to the ravaged city of Ta’iz.
3 Years of Killing
These recent events are but a drop in the ocean compared with the reality of the 3-year-old war, resulting in what the UN described recently as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
According to the UN, approximately 22 million Yemeni citizens are in “dire need of humanitarian assistance and protection“. That is equivalent to almost 1/3 of the population of the UK, or 3/4 of the population of Yemen. 11.3 million of those citizens are children.
According to UNICEF, an average of 5 children per day have been killed since March 2015. More than 1.8 million children are “acutely malnourished” and “400,000 of them are fighting for their lives“.
Coalition bombing of critical infrastructure, such as ports and bridges, and the blocking of aid routes in what the UK itself called a breach of international law, has also led to near-starvation and the largest outbreak of cholera in modern times in a country that was already one of the most impoverished in the world.
Where is the Outrage?
How can it be that the US and the UK, who publicly laud themselves as protectors of humanity, limit their reaction to simply wagging the occasional finger to appease the public and then continuing to sanction further weapons deals?
The UK, US and France thought it necessary to bomb Syria in reaction to the recent alleged chemical attack , but the only metric whereby the attack in Syria appears to be “worse” than the reported bombing of the wedding in Yemen is one which focuses solely on the exoticism of the weapons being used in the killing.
If we are truly interested in saving innocent lives then on what basis do we justify the distinguishing of our reaction based on the methods by which those lives are taken?
The difference cannot be the use of chemical weapons, because Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya was overthrown on the basis of his perceived threat of the use of violence against civilians and no chemical weapons were used.
Still, the press and the governments on both side of the Atlantic were chomping at the bit to remove Gaddafi from power. They succeeded and for the record, a UK House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee investigation later found (as set out in a must-read article by Salon), that in carrying out the war on Libya:
“UK Strategy was founded on erroneous assumptions and an incomplete understanding of the evidence” and that the British government, “failed to identify that the threat to civilians was overstated and that the rebels included a significant Islamist element“.
In the case of Yemen there is complete silence where previously, stenographers of power like The Sun were baying for the UK to drop bombs on Syria without parliamentary approval or evidence of guilt on the part of Assad’s government.
A search for the word “Yemen” on The Sun’s website as of 2nd May 2018 reveals the latest mention of Yemen as being this article dated 13 March 2018 stating that ISIS is active in Yemen. If the search results are representative of the site’s reporting, it appears they have not even bothered to report on the bombing of the wedding.
Other mainstream outlets did report the strike, but the reaction is on a completely different scale to the reaction to similar events in Syria and indeed Libya before that.
Two Kinds of ‘Dictators’
On the one hand, the US and the UK have bombed Syria in the wake of alleged attacks on civilians without so much as an investigation, whereas the punishment for Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is to welcome him with open arms on his “charm offensive” tour around the Western world.
In a demonstration of the ties between the political and business elites, Bin Salman topped off his tour with audiences with Oprah Winfrey, “the Rock”, Bill and Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Michael Bloomberg and the Queen of England, amongst others. Not bad for a man reportedly responsible for the murder of countless civilians and the running of a state which beheaded 48 people in just four months in 2018 and still carries the death penalty for “witchcraft“.
One theory is that this dichotomy in foreign policy may have emerged as a result of the fact that our oil-rich allies, Saudi Arabia, buy billions of pounds worth of weapons from the UK and the US respectively every year and prop up the PetroDollar, whereas Assad is an ally of strategic rivals, Russia and Iran.
It also worth noting that John Kerry, ex-Secretary of State under Obama, is on record admitting that Saudi Arabia offered to pay the entire cost of the war if the US agreed to overthrow Assad’s regime “the way we’ve done it previously in other places“.
The UK and the US must, by continuing to arm Saudi Arabia, take their share of the blame for this war. As Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Director of Research for the Middle East put it:
“There is extensive evidence that irresponsible arms flows to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition have resulted in enormous harm to Yemeni civilians. But this has not deterred the USA, the UK and other states, including France, Spain and Italy, from continuing transfers of billions of dollars’ worth of such arms“.
In fact, the bombs used in the wedding strike may have been the Raytheon manufactured and American-made GBY-12 Paveway II guided bomb.
Human Rights Watch has previously reported evidence of American bombs being used in civilian killings in Yemen. The linked report relates to the double-tap strike against a village well (yes, a village well), killing at least 31 civilians and injuring 42. Dated in May 2017, the report also states that it was “the 23rd time that Human Rights Watch had identified remnants of US-supplied weapons at the site of an apparently unlawful coalition attack“.
Award-winning outlet, The Intercept, also reported that fragments of apparently US-made bombs were discovered after yet another mass killing of civilians in October 2016 when coalition aircraft reportedly bombed a funeral four times killing more than 140 people and wounding 525 more. A local health official described the aftermath as “a lake of blood“.
The UK’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia hit £1.1bn in 2017 alone and have continued since. Both the US and the UK also provide training and assistance to the Saudi war effort in Yemen, including, rather shockingly, according to Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir, assistance in the “command and control centre“. Al-Jubeir also confirmed that that the UK and the US “know what the target list is and they have a sense of what we are doing and what we are not doing“.
That strike list, as shown above, assumedly includes schools, hospitals, funerals, weddings, village wells and open-air markets, amongst other civilian infrastructure, resulting often in double-tap strikes. The US even refuels coalition planes whilst they are bombing Yemen.
Selective Humanitarianism as a Weapon
The clear truth is that US and UK foreign policy has absolutely nothing to do with humanitarianism and the protection of civilians.
The US and the UK are only interested in using humanitarianism selectively as a device through which to manufacture consent for military action in the furtherance of their un-democratic foreign policy objectives of regime change and economic imperialism carried out through wars repeatedly based on proven lies.
It is time that we recognise the hypocrisy inherent in our foreign policy and vote in a Labour government in the UK that can break ties with America and the war machine and start to repair the damage done over recent decades.