Murphy's Law: Why Yemen Loves Saddam Hussein


January 12, 2010: Former Iraqi security officials, many wanted for crimes while serving Saddam Hussein, have come to Yemen, to staff a new security organization, the NSA (National Security Agency) established to destroy al Qaeda elements in the country. The former Saddam operatives know all about al Qaeda, which never managed to establish a presence in Iraq. The Saddam era security people also knew how to track, control, and destroy terrorist groups, which Iraq had plenty of. Most of them were Kurdish or Shia Arab, which were not wiped out, but were kept down, way down. Yemen hopes to get some of that magic, and so far, al Qaeda is suffering because of the Saddam henchmen.

Yemen became an al Qaeda refuge not because the government was pro-terrorist, but because the government was a coalition that contained elements that were very pro Islamic radicalism. To keep the coalition together, various parts of the government are controlled by factions. The Islamic radicals have long controlled one of the major national police agencies; the PSO (Political Security Organization). Despite being favorably inclined towards al Qaeda, the PSO survived because it maintained an unspoken agreement that al Qaeda would refrain from attacking Yemenis, in return for sanctuary. But that deal has unraveled after 2003, when the Saudi branch of al Qaeda broke their unspoken sanctuary agreement, furious that Saudi Arabia stood by while America and Britain invaded Iraq. Before the end of 2003, there were several terror attacks in Saudi Arabia, which quickly turned most of the population against al Qaeda. Saudi Arabia has since cracked down hard on Islamic terrorism within its borders. But at the same time, millions of Saudis still support such terrorism, although nearly all Saudis are opposed to such attacks within Saudi Arabia. Since 2003, Saudi Arabia has foiled over a dozen attacks, mainly on oil facilities or foreigners working in the kingdom. While Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, the royal family spreads the wealth around, thus most Saudis are opposed to al Qaeda attempts to damage the oil production and shipment facilities. As a result, Saudi al Qaeda members had to flee, or face death or prison.

Hundreds of surviving Saudi al Qaeda fled the kingdom, with many of them ending up in Yemen. There, they operated in exile, determined to terrorize their way back into Saudi Arabia, and overthrow the monarchy. Saudi Arabia, which has long (as in for thousands of years) had bad relations with Yemen, was not happy with this sanctuary arrangement. But the bad blood between the two nations made it difficult to cooperate. The two nations had a long history of not getting along. Most of the ill will was created by geography. North of the Yemeni highlands, which trapped the annual monsoon rains along the Yemen coast, allowing the only widespread agriculture in Arabia, there was, until oil was discovered, nothing but poor, and often hostile, Bedouin nomads. The Yemenis regarded them with fear and disdain. Despite the reversal of fortunes (the nomads are now rich, and Yemen, by comparison, is very poor), both countries have an interest in putting down Islamic terrorism and radicalism. So Saudi Arabia has sent its armed forces to the Yemen border, to help fight Shia tribal rebels there. The Shia rebels have cooperated with al Qaeda (although both groups are mutually antagonistic). But with the help of Saddam's security thugs, and Saudi troops, Yemen hopes to destroy its local al Qaeda, without tearing Yemen apart. That remains to be seen, and look at how well Saddam's security people were at keeping their boss in power. But Yemenis were always big fans of Saddam (for his bluster, and hatred of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait), so Saddam's security people benefit from some reflected glory.





Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contribute. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   contribute   Close