Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Marib oil pipe hit again

SANA'A, Sep. 27 (Saba) - The Joint Meeting Parties (JMP)'s militias blew up on Tuesday morning the oil pipe in Erqain area of Marib governorate.

The blast has stopped the flow of crude to export port at Ras Isa area in Hodaida governorate.

The security authorities are currently pursuing the perpetrators, while a team of engineers has headed for the blast location to fix the oil pipe that has been exploded many times before.

Yemen FM blames opposition for ongoing violence

(AP) UNITED NATIONS — Yemen's foreign minister says the opposition movement's refusal to accept the results of the 2006 presidential elections are to blame for the country's current crisis — one that could escalate into a civil war.

Abu Bakr al-Qirbi also told the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday that President Ali Abdullah Saleh is committed to a U.S.-backed Gulf Cooperation Council initiative as a means to ending the crisis in the beleaguered nation that has left hundreds dead.

Al-Qirbi says Saleh's government is committed to democracy and reform, but the opposition has co-opted the youth-driven protests as a way of trying to oust Saleh after he won a resounding victory in the 2006 elections.

He says the violence and unrest threatens to spark a civil war in the country.

What Can the U.S. Really Do for Yemen?

By J. Dana Stuster

Sep 27 2011

Balancing counterterrorism, a tense U.S.-Saudi alliance, and Yemen's protest movement -- the longest of the Arab Spring -- is difficult, but may still be possible

After more than three months in Saudi Arabia, President Ali Abdullah Saleh returned to Yemen last Friday. The move surprised many Yemenis as well as U.S. diplomats trying to negotiate a transfer of power agreement that would see Saleh cede power. Yemen has been the site of the Arab Spring's longest popular uprising -- protesters have camped in tent cities and attended mass rallies every Friday for eight months. The movement has been punctuated by clashes between military forces still loyal to the regime and rebel tribal militiamen and troops who have defected to the opposition. After a lull in violence over the summer, the past week has been the bloodiest yet.

With more than 140 deaths in the past several days alone, it is difficult to believe that only a couple weeks ago a peaceful transfer of power seemed nearly at hand. On September 12, Saleh transferred to his deputy, Vice President Abd Rabu Mansur Hadi, the authority to negotiate and sign a transition deal. Despite lingering doubts over Saleh's sincerity, the State Department last week expressed optimism that the Gulf Cooperation Council-brokered initiative, first introduced in April, would be signed, finally, within the week. Three days later, government forces opened fire on protesters, and by week's end, Saleh had returned to Sanaa.

Even at the time, there were indicators problems lay ahead, according to Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen expert at Princeton University. "Yemenis have a finely-tuned sense of the unwritten subtext of political actions, and Saleh's offer to cede authority to Hadi set off a number of alarms," Johnson wrote by email. "Certainly as soon as Saleh announced a new proposition many Yemenis started to worry about the prospect of a new round of fighting."

The greatest hazard in Saleh's authorization of Hadi was that it cut out other remnants of the regime, including Saleh's son, Ahmed, and his nephews who command elite units of the military. With Hadi chosen to oversee the transfer of power, Ahmed and his cousins found themselves at the margins of a process that, if finalized, would cost them their careers and their prestige. Their easiest recourse was to use the military force at their command, which they did, firing at protesters in an apparent effort to reassert their own political importance.

After the week's bloodshed, it is unlikely that the Yemeni opposition can support the GCC deal as long as the proposal provides amnesty for Saleh and members of his regime. Despite advancing the GCC initiative in a speech on Sunday, Saleh's return suggests that it will not move forward, particularly now that he is more vulnerable to face prosecution. Hadi retains the power to negotiate and sign the agreement on behalf of Saleh, but whatever limited power Hadi had on the ground has been displaced by Ahmed and the rest of the military leadership.

The amnesty provision is just one of the GCC agreement's many faults, but in the five months since it was presented, no one has introduced a viable alternative agreement. From the beginning of Yemen's uprising, the United States has been careful to work through Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom has a long and complicated history with Yemen; Saudi royals have maintained extensive patronage networks to influence Yemeni sheikhs, and King Abdul Aziz's deathbed admonition to his sons in 1953 -- "Keep Yemen weak," he's purported to have told them -- makes it difficult to believe that Saudi diplomacy has Yemen's best interests at heart. For all their power and influence, the Saudis could not keep Saleh in their country, let alone deliver his signature on the GCC deal.

Despite this, President Obama seems committed to working through the Saudis and the GCC initiative. "We must work with Yemen's neighbors and our partners around the world to seek a path that allows for a peaceful transition of power from President Saleh," he said at the United Nations last week. This was a reasonable approach closer to the beginning of the uprising, when the U.S. was using its political capital to urge Saudi Arabia to show restraint in Bahrain; at the time, Yemen's domestic crisis was a lower priority. The United States could still pursue its counterterrorism efforts; on September 13, CIA director David Petraeus reported, "counterterrorism cooperation with Yemen has, in fact, improved in the past few months." Tensions are still high between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, and the U.S. is still promoting the GCC proposal, an almost certain diplomatic dead-end. The deal is unlikely to be signed or instituted in a way that will resolve the crisis, but the U.S., it seems, doesn't want to abandon a plan, however flawed, into which it has sunk so much time and political capital. The U.S., in other words, is wasting time.

"The United States and the international community have to stop delegating the lead role in mediation to Saudi Arabia and the GCC," Marc Lynch, director of the Institute for Middle East Studies at the George Washington University, told the BBC last week. "I think it's time for the United States and the UN and the international community to step in much more forcefully and insist on a transition."

Joshua Foust, a fellow at the American Security Project and correspondent for TheAtlantic.com, told me he agrees that the U.S. should be getting out front. "I think that Obama needs to be vocal, insistent, consistent, and on Arabic TV stations condemning Saleh's behavior, his regime, and the massacres," he wrote in an email. "And I think Obama needs to be calling for his resignation and for the creation of a constitutional convention that includes [the various and divided political and tribal] groups."

Because the U.S. is still indirectly financing some of the elite Yemeni military units now cracking down on protesters, launching drone strikes in Yemen's south, and working through the GCC, the United States may not have enough credibility within Yemen to write its own proposal. Even with the aid of an international body like the UN, the window of opportunity to bring all the different actors in Yemen to the same table may be closing.

With all the focus on the unrest in Sanaa, Yemen has been fragmenting at its periphery. Saleh's government was never particularly effective at controlling the entire country. Wide swaths of the interior were subject to tribal law and custom, and Saleh relied heavily on a network of patronage and allegiance among Yemeni sheikhs. Beyond the limits of the government's reach, northern Houthi tribesmen and southern secessionists organized rebellions, and al-Qaeda's Gulf franchise found shelter in the mountainous regions of several provinces. Now perhaps more than ever before, the Saleh regime is turned inward, leaving non-state actors to consolidate power for themselves. This includes Ansar al Sharia, an Islamist militia that may have ties to al-Qaeda. Ansar forces have battled government forces and defected military forces since late May, when they seized the southern town of Zinjibar.

As the Saleh regime fights to reassert control, the extent of the government's sovereignty over Yemen is shrinking by the day. Johnsen notes that the Houthis are "consolidating power in the north" and Islamists and secessionists are mounting efforts in the south. "The Yemen that emerges from this conflict may very well look a lot different than the Yemen that entered it," he told me.

This could create a whole new set of problems. The Saudi leadership, after supporting the Yemeni government's six-year effort to suppress the Houthis, would react poorly -- possibly violently -- if Yemen's Houthis managed to create a functionally autonomous province along its southern border. Ansar al Sharia's campaign in the south has coincided with an increase in the frequency of drone strikes against al-Qaeda targets there. Analysts such as Johnsen and Foust criticize what they consider a U.S. overemphasis on counterterrorism. Ansar al Sharia and al-Qaeda are symptoms of Yemen's larger problems, a central cause of which is the country's ineffective state. Addressing this problem starts with a transition to a new government, and soon, before Yemen falls apart completely.

Yemeni defense minister escapes assassination

September 27, 2011- (AP)

SANAA, Yemen - A suicide attacker driving an explosives-laden car blew himself up Tuesday next to the passing convoy of Yemen's defense minister, who escaped the attack unharmed, security officials and witnesses said.

The assailant detonated his car as Defense Minister Maj. Gen. Mohammed Nasser Ahmed's convoy passed by on the coastal highway in the southern city of Aden, witnesses said. The ministry confirmed the attack and said in a statement that Ahmed, who survived another attempt on his life last month that killed two of his bodyguards, was unharmed.

A security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media, said at least 10 were wounded in the blast. It was not immediately clear whether senior military officials were among the wounded.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Yemen's military has been battling al Qaeda-linked militants who have taken advantage of the country's ongoing political turmoil to seize control of towns and swaths of territory in the south.

In recent weeks, the military has launched an offensive to reclaim lost ground, but fierce fighting has not shaken the militants hold on the area and has left thousands of civilians displaced.

Yemen has been rocked by nearly daily mass protests demanding the ouster of longtime president Ali Abdullah Saleh, plunging the impoverished nation into deep political crisis.

The turmoil has worried the United States and Europe, who fear Yemen has become a haven for Islamic militants, including al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which Washington says is the most dangerous branch of the global terror network.

Attackers in the south also struck a major oil pipeline in the city of Marib, causing a disruption in oil exports, a local official in Marib said.

The pipeline carries crude from the region of Safer to Ras Eissa on the Red Sea coast for export. Halting the flow badly hurts Yemen's already feeble economy.

Anti-Saleh tribesman attacked the same pipeline in March, also forcing a halt in oil production. Local officials said at that time that tribesmen prevented the Oil Ministry repairing the damage until July when when the pipeline was finally fixed and production resumed.