Yemen and Syria: fearful symmetry

Russia used its veto power on the UN Security Council Oct. 8 to kill a French-backed resolution demanding an immediate end to air-strikes on besieged Aleppo. Venezuela, shamefully (but not surprisingly), also voted against it. This was the fifth time Russia has used its veto to kill a UN resolution on Syria since the war began more than five years ago. (Reuters) The aerial terror remains unrelenting. On Oct. 13, a Russian or Assad regime air-strike (it matters little which) killed at at least 15 at a marketplace in rebel-held eastern Aleppo. (Rudaw) Secretary of State John Kerry has called for an investigation of possible war crimes by Russia and the Assad regime.

The sectarian nature of the Moscow-backed regime assault continues to become more evident. The Guardian reports that of the 6,000 pro-government fighters now gathered on the outskirts of Aleppo for a final advance on the city, mere hundreds are actual Syrian Arab Army troops. The overwhelming majority are from foreign Shi'ite sectarian militias. The most notorious of these is the Lebanese Hezbollah, but they also include an Iraqi formation, Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba—the same implicated in the "ethnic cleansing" (or sectarian cleansing) of towns recently taken from the rebels, with Sunni inhabitants  forcibly evacuated and Shi'ite militiamen and their families resettled there.

Note that these are some of the same Iraqi Shi'ite militias that the US is backing in Iraq, and intends to employ in the taking of Mosul from ISIS. And Free Syrian Army leaders in the field accuse the US of actually collaborating with Assad regime forces, by demanding that rebels only use US-supplied weapons against ISIS—in other words, an implicit order that they not defend their territory from regime forces.

Given all this, it is hardly surprising that Washington and Moscow, despite all the sabre-rattling of recent days, have once again announced they will return to the table—this weekend in Lausanne, Switzerland. (Al Jazeera) Let's see if they will rebuild the bogus "ceasefire" deal that actually called for joint US-Russian military action in Syria—making Washington an explicit partner in Assad's genocide.

As all this is going on, the Syrian war's horrific "sideshow" (as was said about Cambodia vis-a-vis Vietnam) in Yemen is rapidly escalating, with a US destroyer this week firing missiles on Shi'ite Houthi rebel targets. This came about after Houthis fired rockets at a US destroyer in retaliation for a Saudi air-strike on the funeral of a politician sympathetic to the rebels, killing scores of civilians.

Kremlin media mouthpiece Sputnik now reports that Yemen's former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, today allied with the Houthis, has called on Moscow to introduce a UN Security Council resolution to end the US-backed Saudi-led air-strikes on his country. Said Saleh: "I call on Russia as a superpower and a major player in the world…to cooperate with all peace-seeking nations to issue a definitive and binding resolution in the UNSC to stop the aggression…imposed on the Yemeni people by sea, air and land."

And just as Kerry is calling for a war crimes investigation into Russia's campaign in Syria, State Department e-mails have been released, revealing official concerns that the US could be held legally responsible for war crimes in Yemen as a "co-belligerent."

In Syria and Yemen the sectarian and superpower alignments are reversed. In Syria, Russia and Iran back a regime that favors Shi'ites and persecutes Sunnis. In Yemen, the US and Saudi Arabia back a regime that favors Sunnis and persecutes Shi'ites. (Although, as we have noted, the Syrian Alawites and Yemeni Zaidis are both considered heretical in the orthodox "Twelver" Shia of Iran's ayatollahs.) Exploitation of the sectarian divide serves to pit Arab revolutions against each other, and derail pro-democratic struggle into internecine warfare. 

Russian-backed counterinsurgency in Syria and US-backed counterinsurgency in Yemen mirror each other, betraying superpower rivalry and "cooperation" alike as inimical to the region's revolutions.

  1. Assad losing control of his foreign militia fighters?

    An analysis on Middle East Eye suggests that even if Bashar Assad's loyalist forces succeed in taking Aleppo, the dictator could have a hard time actuall reconsolidating his rule there—as he is overwhelmingly relying on foreign Shi'ite militias that he only has tenuous control over.  As of 2013, Syria’s army had lost half of its forces, shrinking from 220,000 before the war to approximately 110,000, according to International Institute for Strategic Studies estimates. Even in areas under regime control, growing numbers of youth are evading conscription. "The regime's growing dependency on local and foreign militias is slowly building the potential for a complete breakdown of order, with militias having either competing backers or different localised agendas."

    Still betting on Assad for "stability"?