At midnight on March 27 Saudi Arabia began a campaign of airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The Saudis are leading the military assault as part of an alliance that includes nine Arab nations and Pakistan. In early April the UN reported that over 600 people had been killed, with civilians making up over half the death toll. Saudi Arabia has bombed schools, hospitals and a refugee camp, according to UN officials.
Military intervention will only worsen the situation in the country, which has been plagued by a long history of imperialist interference.
The Saudi coalition includes the Egyptian military dictatorship and a host of Gulf States.
Major Western powers have backed the bombing.
The US is providing intelligence for the airstrikes and its Navy has stepped up patrols, supposedly to prevent the rebels receiving weapons by sea.
The most immediate aim of the Saudi led intervention is to restore President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. He was ousted when Houthi forces seized control of the capital Sana’a in September 2014. Hadi escaped to the major southern city of Aden, but when the Houthi advanced there too he fled to Saudi Arabia. Australia has lined up with its imperialist allies without openly calling for military intervention.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Australia “recognises the legitimacy of the government of President Hadi”.
Saudi Arabia and Iran are seeking to advance their respective interests by playing on sectarian divisions.
Saudi Arabia and supporters of President Hadi are claiming that the Shia Houthi are simply proxies of Iran’s Shia regime. Since the Yemeni population is two-thirds Sunni such statements have a clear sectarian dimension. Conversely, Iran has defended the Houthi and condemned the airstrikes carried out by its Sunni rival Saudi Arabia.
This climate has given Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and the local Islamic State affiliate space to launch their own deadly sectarian attacks. In March IS bombings targeted Shia mosques in Sana’a killing at least 142 people.
The underlying causes of the Yemen conflict are social rather than religious. The fighting has its most immediate origins in the national uprising that forced out Yemen’s dictatorial President Ali Abdul Saleh in 2012.
The protests began in 2011 and were inspired by the major uprisings sweeping the Arab world. The movement was initially protesting against unemployment, economic deprivation, corruption and proposed changes to the constitution.
Yemen is one of the Arab world’s poorest countries. In 2012 the poverty rate hit 54.5 per cent.
At the time the Houthi joined the national uprising alongside Sunni political parties, students and the wider population. They had already fought six wars with the regime since 2004.
Protests and armed uprising continued through most of 2011. Eventually the Saudi Kingdom successfully used the Gulf Co-Operation Council to impose a settlement on the movement that helped pave the way for the current strife.
US diplomats such as CIA Director John Brennan helped negotiate the transition. This saw the departure of President Saleh, who was ultimately replaced by Hadi.
The regime however remained intact and Hadi then moved to crush the movement, while the unpopular and regressive policies of the new government helped stoke further discontent.
Under pressure from the IMF Hadi cut fuel subsidies in August 2014. This saw the price of a litre of fuel explode from 77c to $1.23.
The Houthi were only able to seize the capital Sana’a in December as a result of mass anger and protests that followed the subsidy cut. Saleh, who still controls sections of the military, is now allied with the Houthi in an effort to regain power.
In September 2014 Obama was celebrating Yemen as a success story in the “war on terror”. He claimed the combination of local government offensives and US drone strikes had driven back Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
But the militarised chaos created by US meddling in Yemen and the regressive policies of the Western-backed government have created the ideal conditions for terror groups to thrive.
The US’s position in the Middle East is increasingly complex and fraught. In Yemen they are encouraging a Saudi intervention against the Houthi, who are aligned with Iran.
In this case the US are now effectively fighting the same enemy as Al-Qaida. Meanwhile, in Iraq they are working alongside Iranian-backed Shia militias to confront Islamic State. In Yemen, as elsewhere, the biggest losers will be the civilian population.
By Adam Adelpour