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No End in Sight for US-Backed Yemen War as Airstrike Kills At Least 20, Including Bride, at Wedding

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At least 20 people died Sunday when a Saudi-led coalition airstrike hit a wedding party in northern Yemen. Most of the dead were reportedly women and children who were gathered in one of the wedding party tents. The bride was among the dead. Medics and residents said more than 46 others—including 30 children—were also injured. The attack on the Yemeni wedding party was one of at least three airstrikes over the weekend that killed Yemeni civilians. A family of five died in an airstrike in the province of Hajjah. And 20 civilians died on Saturday when fighter jets bombed a bus near the city of Taiz. Earlier this month, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said Yemen had become the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. We speak to Shireen Al-Adeimi, a Yemeni doctoral candidate at Harvard University.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: At least 20 people died Sunday when a Saudi-led coalition airstrike hit a wedding party in northern Yemen. Most of the dead were reportedly women and children who were gathered in one of the wedding party tents. The bride was among the dead. Medics and residents said more than 46 others, including 30 children, were also injured. Video footage released by the Yemeni TV station Al-Masirah showed a young boy clutching his dead father, who was surrounded by rubble. The boy was shouting, “I swear I won’t leave him!”

The attack on the Yemeni wedding party was one of at least three airstrikes over the weekend that killed Yemeni civilians. A family of five died in an airstrike in the province of Hajjah. And 20 civilians died on Saturday when fighter jets bombed a bus near the city of Taiz.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Yemen’s rebel Houthi movement said senior leader Saleh al-Sammad had been killed in a Saudi-led coalition airstrike last Thursday. The rebel group warned Sammad’s killing was a crime that would, quote, “not go unanswered.” Sammad is the most senior Houthi official to have been killed since the Western-backed coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015. More than 15,000 people have died since the Saudi invasion, while U.S.-backed, Saudi-led airstrikes have devastated Yemen’s health, water and sanitation systems, sparking a massive cholera outbreak—about a million Yemenis are believed to have cholera—and pushing millions of Yemenis to the brink of starvation. Earlier this month, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said Yemen had become the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTÓNIO GUTERRES: Every 10 minutes, a child under 5 dies of preventable causes. And nearly 3 million children under 5 and pregnant or lactating women are actually malnourished. Nearly half of all children aged between 6 months and 5 years old are chronically malnourished and suffer from stunting, which causes development delays and reduced ability to learn throughout their entire lives.

AMY GOODMAN: To find out more about the situation in Yemen, we’re going now to Boston to speak with Shireen Al-Adeimi, a Yemeni doctoral candidate at Harvard University. Her recent piece for In These Times is headlined “Trump Doesn’t Care About Civilian Deaths. Just Look at Yemen.”

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Shireen. Can you talk about what you understand happened with the Saudi bombing of the Yemeni wedding party, that resulted in at least 20 deaths, many of them women and children? Where did this happen?

SHIREEN AL-ADEIMI: Thanks so much for having me.

And what happened a couple of days ago in Yemen is not unusual. So, this happened in a northern province, in Hajjah, nowhere near the front lines. This, of course, was a civilian wedding. They struck the men’s wedding first, the men’s wedding party. And then, as rescuers were trying to attend to the injured, they went and, you know, bombed the women’s part of the wedding. So this is a double-tap airstrike, that is very common in the Saudi-led war on Yemen.

Thirty-three were reported to have been killed, and several more injured, hundreds—sorry, tens have been injured. And, you know, 30 children are included in this list of people who were injured. This is a wedding. This is supposed to be the happiest day of people’s lives. And instead, the bride was killed, the groom injured, and so many more guests ended up killed, as well.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Shireen, for people here who don’t understand, since this is a war that Saudi Arabia is waging, how important is the American support, the U.S. support for this war?

SHIREEN AL-ADEIMI: So, starting with the Obama administration and continuing in through the Trump administration, the Saudis have enjoyed extensive support from the U.S. Army. Right from day one, March 26, 2015, when Saudi Arabia began bombing, the U.S. was right alongside, helping them with targeting, with logistics. They help maintain and update their vehicles. And most importantly, the U.S. refuels Saudi jets midair, jets that we’ve sold to them, jets that—you know, bombs that we’ve sold to them. But we also help operate them. So, as they’re bombing civilian targets in Yemen, the U.S. Army helps refuel those jets midair. So, U.S. support of the Saudis is extensive.

And, you know, U.S. claims that we are there to help them with precision targeting, but the fact of the matter is, is that civilians have beared the brunt of this war. You mentioned 15,000 people have been killed. That’s just the number of people who have been killed by airstrikes. We also help them maintain the blockade, that’s killed 113,000 children in 2016 and 2017 alone, due to malnutrition and disease, because, you know, water is very limited in the country. Yemen used to import 90 percent of its food, and that’s now become very difficult for people to afford or to find. And so, you know, many people are on the brink, but many people have already been killed and have lost their lives, because they just can’t find food and water and medicine for preventable diseases like cholera.

AMY GOODMAN: Shireen, can you talk about Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, who has overseen the Saudi strikes on Yemen? Can you talk about his recent, what they called, “charm offensive” throughout the United States, from Washington to Houston to Hollywood? Talk about the significance of this. When President Trump met with him at the White House last month, he held up posters of recent Saudi weapons purchases from the U.S. and said, quote, “We make the best equipment in the world.”

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Saudi Arabia has been a very great friend and a big purchaser of equipment and lots of other things. … Some of the things that we are now working on—thanks—and that have been ordered and will shortly be started in construction and delivered: THAAD system, $13 billion; the C-130 heli—airplanes, the Hercules, great plane, $3.8 billion; the Bradley vehicles, that’s the tanks, $1.2 billion; and the P-8 Poseidons, $1.4 billion. … So, we make the best equipment in the world. There’s nobody even close. And Saudi Arabia is buying a lot of this equipment.

AMY GOODMAN: Shireen Al-Adeimi, the posters that President Trump was holding, almost like a high school presentation, was a map of the United States. And as he talked about the weapons, these weapons were sourced to places in the United States, states in the United States. Can you talk about this, human rights groups warning about the weapons that the—the massive arms deal, that may make the United States complicit in war crimes committed in the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen?

SHIREEN AL-ADEIMI: Right. So, of course, Saudi Arabia doesn’t manufacture its own weapons. They rely on countries like the U.S. and the U.K. and even Canada to supply them with the weapons needed to wage this incredibly destructive war on a country that really posed no threat to them. So, Yemen doesn’t even have an air defense system. They’ve disabled that. And it’s a country that’s not even able to defend itself. So, they’ve been purchasing these weapons, totaling in the hundreds of billions of dollars, simply for the cause—for the sake of trying to assert control and dominance, and trying to win this war that’s really unwinnable in Yemen.

But, you know, Trump was being transparent about why Mohammed bin Salman was in the U.S. And reportedly, Mohammed bin Salman was embarrassed by those posters. But Trump, essentially, was saying, “Well, yes, this is the relationship that we have with Saudi Arabia, one that’s based on how much they can pay for our services.” I mentioned all the logistical training and updating of aircraft and so on. Those total $129 million per month. And so we’re making—really, we’re making a lot of money. The U.S. is making a lot of money from their relationship with Saudi Arabia. Human rights groups, of course, have warned that these weapons are not being used for any reason other than to target civilians. And countries like Germany and the Netherlands have recently stopped selling weapons to the United Arab Emirates and the Saudi Arabians for this very reason.

But here, you know, Prince Charming, he was—you know, we protested his visit here in Boston at MIT. But places like MIT and Harvard, and people like Oprah and the Clintons and, like you said, President Trump, they’ve all met with him. And they’ve all—you know, he went unchallenged when he was doing interviews here in the United States. And he’s not just anybody in the Saudi Arabian royal family. He is the architect of this Yemen war. He is the defense minister and crown prince. This war began under his command. And so, this is somebody who has caused extreme suffering in a country. The U.N. says that Yemen is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. He has caused this, and we’re helping him perpetuate this, yet he was virtually unchallenged while in the United States.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Shireen, what about—obviously, the United States continues to justify its support under the continuing war on terrorism and also the attempts to hold back supposed Iranian influence on terrorist groups. What about the situation with ISIS and al-Qaeda and other international terrorist groups within Yemen? Could you talk about that, as well, and also the Iran issue?

SHIREEN AL-ADEIMI: Right. So, Congress has said, has declared that the role of the United States in Yemen, in helping Saudi Arabia in this war on Yemen, is not covered under that, you know, under fighting terrorism. So it’s unconstitutional. It’s unauthorized by Congress.

But like you mentioned, the U.S. is in Yemen on two different fronts. On the one hand, they are trying to target, you know, anybody suspected of being al-Qaeda or ISIS. And that’s largely done through drone strikes, that began—or that really escalated under Obama’s administration and have continued through Trump’s administration. And then, the other front, which is unauthorized by Congress, is this support, this blanket support, of Saudi Arabia in its war on Yemen.

Now, you know, they’ve mentioned Iran as a cause, as a reason to intervene in Yemen. The fact of the matter is that, you know, there’s very little evidence that Iran is interfering in any significant way in Yemen. Like I mentioned, there’s a land, air and sea blockade that Saudi Arabia and the United States impose on Yemen. You know, Doctors Without Borders have trouble bringing their personnel, their medicine, their food, their doctors into the country. U.N. ships have trouble bringing food into the country. But we’re somehow led to believe that Iran is able to smuggle missiles or other sorts of weapons to Yemen. So, for Yemenis, it’s really absurd to think that they’re fighting Iran in Yemen. There is no evidence of any Iranian soldiers or any Iranian generals on the ground in Yemen. Of course, the Houthis and Iran have some sort of relationship, but it doesn’t—it’s very limited, and Iran is not involved in Yemen in the same degree that Saudi Arabia has been claiming.

So, you know, Congress has tried to pull the United States out of Yemen, recognizing that it’s unauthorized. Bernie Sanders recently introduced a bill in the Senate called S.J.Res. 54, which was eventually tabled in the Senate. They didn’t even vote on it. But that was attempting to extricate the United States out of hostilities in Yemen and by invoking the War Resolutions Act.

AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of the—Yemen’s Houthi movement saying that a senior political figure had died in an attack last Thursday, Saleh al-Sammad? Who is al-Sammad?

SHIREEN AL-ADEIMI: So, the Houthis, in partnership with the prior president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who maintain significant control in Yemen, they formed a political council that governed northern areas that they control. Now, the Houthis control a small portion of land, if you look at the map, but about 80 percent of the population live there. So they still maintain large control over the country, compared to what Saudi Arabia controls, which is, you know, land that they control along with ISIS and al-Qaeda and other groups. So, you know, they formed this political council as a way to govern.

And Sammad was the head of that political council. And so, you know, Saudi Arabia took him out in an airstrike. And there is video posted online yesterday of that attack. It’s an assassination, essentially. And I don’t know what comes next, you know? Here they are. There’s no hope really for a peace process if leaders like that are going to be executed by Saudi Arabia. So, I’m really not sure what comes next.

AMY GOODMAN: Shireen Al-Adeimi, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Yemeni doctoral student at Harvard University. She’s been speaking out about the role of the United States in the Saudi-led war in Yemen. We’ll link to your piece in In These Times. It’s headlined “Trump Doesn’t Care About Civilian Deaths. Just Look at Yemen.”

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, there is a power transfer in Cuba. We’ll talk about its significance. Stay with us.

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