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Ali Abdullah Saleh: 'as good an ally the West could hope for'?

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Submitted by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi (United Kingdom), Mar 29, 2011 at 12:28

Dr. Pipes:

You write:-

'However deficient an autocrat and however circumscribed his power, the wily Ali Abdullah Saleh, in office since 1978, has been about as good an ally the West could hope for'.

On the contrary, Ali Abdullah Saleh is the main reason why AQAP has gained such a strong foothold in Yemen. Saleh has hardly been the staunch U.S. ally you imagine him to be. At best, it could be said that he merely played a double game, allowing the U.S. to carry out drone attacks against Al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) hideouts in Yemen on the one hand whilst diverting aid, specifically intended for cracking down on AQAP, to suppress domestic opposition with no links to Al-Qa'ida on the other. In fact, disclosures from the leaked U.S. diplomatic cables illustrate that U.S. officials have long been aware of this. For example, Stephen Seche, who was the American ambassador to Yemen in the period 2007-2010, noted in one cable that Saleh was using a commando group (funded and trained by Britain and the US since 2002 to fight Al-Qa'ida)- and perhaps American Humvees- against the Houthis. The Houthis are a Shi'a movement in the north of the country that began a revolt in 2004, primarily in opposition to what they regard as discrimination by Saleh's government against the north in terms of jobs, development and lack of political autonomy. They have no links to either Iran or Al-Qa'ida.

Saleh has frequently conflated both the Houthi rebels and the southern separatists with Al-Qa'ida. In a meeting in September 2009 with White House counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan, Saleh specifically pressured the US to provide armoured vehicles, airplanes and ambulances for his campaign against the Houthis. Brennan rightly rejected Saleh's pleas, affirming that the U.S. considers the Houthis to be 'a domestic insurgency'.

Meanwhile, Saleh has proved himself remarkably tolerant of Al-Qa'ida figures in Yemen, pursuing a strategy of trying to co-opt rather than eliminate them. At lunch with a US envoy in 2007, he openly bragged about having met with Jamal al-Badawi for a friendly chat only two weeks earlier. Badawi was the chief Al-Qa'ida member responsible for orchestrating the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 that killed seventeen people. Although Saleh went on to assure the envoy that Badawi was under house arrest, the militant's whereabouts today are unknown.

As for your claim that Saleh 'limited incitement', how do you explain the fact that he provided funding and support for Al-Iman university, a centre for hardline violent Islamists?

Is it any wonder that because of Saleh Al-Qa'ida is now able to use Yemen as a base to devise international terrorist plots? When I read your site, Dr. Pipes, I do not expect you to repeat simplistic orthodoxies. Do you not agree that we should encourage Saleh to step down from power? The sooner he leaves, the less likely it is that full-blown anarchy will descend on Yemen, right?

As for the southern separatists, there is little evidence even of substantial support for any brand of Islamism. In contrast to most of Yemen, where Islamic orthodoxy is strong and the niqab (face veil) is widely worn, women amongst the southern separatists still claim the educational, professional and social freedoms they enjoyed under the old Marxist regime of South Yemen. Al-Qa'ida members backed Saleh in the civil war in the 1990s that united Yemen under his rule, and regard the idea of a new state in the south as contrary to the ideals of a united Ummah (Muslim community).

Submitting....

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