Our Not-So-Brave Saudi and IS Allies in Yemen

It’s nice and convenient when Middle Eastern atrocities can be principally blamed on overtly black-hat, anti-US villains like Islamic State. That’s most definitely not the case in Yemen, where we are backing a Saudi military assault on Shi’a forces (and civilians) that are also being targeted for terrorist attacks by none other than IS. And the Saudi tactic of targeting Yemeni cities for air strikes is beginning to take on a horrific dimension of its own, per this AP report published by the Guardian:

More than 45 civilians have been killed in an air strike by Saudi-led coalition forces on a marketplace in Yemen, according to security officials and witnesses.

The officials said more than 50 civilians were wounded in the strike in Fayoush, a suburb of the southern port city of Aden.

“I came right after the explosion and saw dozens of dead strewn about and a sea of blood, while the wounded were being evacuated to nearby hospitals,” resident Abu-Ali al-Azibi said. “There was blood from people mixed with that of the sheep and other livestock at the market.”

The officials said Saudi-led air strikes against Houthi rebels continued across the country, with nine provinces and the capital, Sana’a, hit.

It’s hardly anything new, though:

The rebels seized Sana’a in September. In March, a Saudi-led and US-backed coalition began launching air strikes against the rebels and their allies.

The fighting has left 20 million Yemenis without access to safe drinking water and uprooted more than 1 million people from their homes, according to the UN. Last Wednesday, it declared its highest-level humanitarian emergency in the country, where more than 80% of the population needs assistance.

And Yemen has become yet another theater of operations for IS, as the BBC reported late last month:

The Islamic State (IS) militant group say its Yemeni affiliate carried out a car-bomb attack at a funeral attended by Shia Houthi rebels in the capital.

Dozens of people were injured, reports say. An unconfirmed report says many people were killed.

The blast happened near a military hospital in Sanaa on Monday night.
It is the latest attack by IS against Houthis in Yemen, where the Sunni extremist group declared its presence in November.

You get the sense reading about Yemen that the U.S. regards what’s happening as a sort of sad but necessary Saudi bloodletting that distracts Riyadh from its anger over U.S.-Iran nuclear talks. But once again, we are letting ourselves be drawn into the same kind of Sunni-Shi’a conflict that made our Iraq intervention so futile, and bloody. And anytime you find yourself in a de facto alliance with the very group you are engaging in a hot war elsewhere, it’s time to reconsider.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.