Saudi Air Raid on Houthi Territory IDP Camp Kills 22 Children 

On Thursday, August 23, 2018, Houdi sources reported that the Saudi-UAE military alliance led an air raid on an IDP camp in Duraihami (Al-Houai), Yemen, killing 22 children. This report comes just weeks after another Saudi-UAE attack on Houthi rebels, which killed 40 schoolchildren. Meanwhile, UAE state news agency WAM reported last month that the Houthis launched an oppositional ballistic missile attack. The exact body count resulting from this string of attacks is uncertain, as news sources are controlled by the conflicting parties (this week’s information comes from SABA, a Houdi-controlled news agency). While Houdi, Yemeni government and Saudi-UAE relations are complex, it is safe to say that these attacks are part of a larger bid for control over Yemen and its invaluable position as a geographical gateway to international oil trade.

According to Hussiein al-Bukhaiti, a pro-Houthi activist in Sanaa, the first strike in Duraihami killed five people and injured two; while the second strike killed 26 women and children attempting to flee. “[The] second strike targeted that bus, killing everyone,” he explained to Al Jazeera.  Majed Dahfah, another witness, told Houthi-run TV network Al Masirah, “[The victims were] dead children and women. [It was a] disgusting crime.”  These attacks have sparked similar sentiments across the globe, especially from a number of humanitarian agencies. In response to the earlier attack that killed 40 schoolchildren, UNICEF’s Geert Cappelaere tweeted “NO EXCUSES ANYMORE!!” “Does the world really need more innocent children’s lives to stop the cruel war on children in Yemen?”

Each side has a number of motivations, goals and targets; but one common issue is that of global trade and oil. Duraihami’s IDP camp lies approximately 20 km from Hodeidah, a port city strategically important to both Houdi rebels and the Saudi coalition-backed Yemeni government. Aside from being host to a number of passing oil shipments, Hodeidah is a lifeline for international aid. A siege on Hodeidah would mean possible famine for 8 million Yemenis, as 70% of imports pass through the city.

The U.S. may also have a stake in these conflicts, and has not shied away from influence. This week’s coalition-led attack featured a U.S. bomb. (This might make the U.S. liable under the war crimes act.) Indeed, the U.S. weapons industry made 90 billion in sales from 2010-2015 by selling weaponry to Riyadh (the capital of Saudi Arabia). The U.N. has since scrutinized the U.S. for its involvement in these complex relations between Houdi rebel forces, the Yemeni government and the Saudi-UAE coalition.

While the relevant geopolitical relations have existed for the better part of the 21st century, the Houdi (“Ansah Allah”) Shiite Islamic movement arose in 1992. And in 2014, the Houthis took over Yemen’s capital of Sanaa and ousted President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi from office. (They took issue with [1] his executive orders that granted extension of his own power in office and [2] his oil subsidy policies.) Hadi subsequently fled Sanaa to a coalition-protected district. In March 2015, the Houthi-led Supreme Revolutionary Committee declared operations against Hadi, essentially starting the civil war that the world is witnessing today.

Both international figures have since then expressed their desire for a reversal of events. The U.N.’s Ban Ki-moon has asked that Hadi’s government be restored.Saudi Arabia’s prince Mohammed bin Salman has attempted to restore such government. But Iran (a Shiite state, while the UAE and Saudi Arabia are predominantly Sunni) has signalled its support of the Houthis, with possible weapons shipments to Yemen. So, while a Sunni/Shiite conflict is at play, a number of international and local players with economic agendas beyond such conflict are trying to influence the outcome(s). International Policy Digest’s Carmelo Cruz writes, “Having ports around one of the busiest sea trading routes would mean expanding business all over the region.” “While the UAE’s aim is to gain a port in South Yemen, it seems fighting Houthis is just an excuse.”

The situation is a complicated one; where objectives lie both on the battlefield and far beyond it; where international money and geopolitical power are contingent upon local outcomes. The real crime is that this is occurring at the expense of innocent women and children. Yemen’s conflicts are a full-blown humanitarian crisis; and more effort should be taken in making sure that more innocent lives are not treated as mere collateral to international power dynamics.