, SANAA, Jan 15 – Proposed US military strikes on suspected Al-Qaeda targets in Yemen will backfire, strengthening the image of the group instead of harming it, religious leaders and analysts say.
The chairman of the US Senate\’s armed services committee, Carl Levin, on Wednesday urged Washington to consider targeting Al-Qaeda with armed drones, air strikes or even covert operations, but opposed any invasion of the country.
The reaction to that in Sanaa on Thursday was clear — don\’t do it. The view is that any US intervention will produce the opposite of the desired effect.
Predominantly Sunni Muslim Yemen is far from a united country, with Shiite rebels battling the government in the north and secessionists agitating in the south, and all within a hodgepodge of tribal loyalties that add a third dimension to the complexity of society.
Yemen is also a country with a long tradition of anti-Americanism, which contributed to thousands of volunteers heading for Iraq after the 2003 US-led invasion to feed the insurgency against the US presence there.
Add to that a deep-seated tribal commitment to avenging the deaths of one\’s relatives and you would have enough, according to Sheikh Saleh Salabani, imam of the small village of Damar, to "drive the populace into the arms of Al-Qaeda."
Salabani was in Sanaa along with scores of other religious dignitaries from around the country. They gathered at the capital\’s Al-Mashed mosque to attend a meeting of ulemas (scholars) on the perceived dangers of any foreign military intervention.
Ironically in a country where the central government\’s writ does not extend far beyond the limits of the capital and other major cities, Salabani points to the Sanaa regime for action.
"We might not love Al-Qaeda," he says, "but it is for our government to get rid of them and not anyone else."
To the cries of "Alahu akbar" (God is greatest), the 150-strong council of clerics to which Salabani belongs issued a stark warning: "If any party insists on aggression, or invades the country, then according to Islam, jihad (holy war) becomes obligatory."
They strongly rejected any foreign intervention in Yemeni affairs, whether political or military. They also rejected any security or military agreement or cooperation between Yemen and any foreign party if it violates Islamic Sharia (law).
Dominique Thomas, a specialist in Islamic networks at the prestigious School of Higher Studies in Social Sciences in Paris speaks as bluntly as the cleric.
"American missiles hitting Yemeni houses is just what Al-Qaeda is waiting for."
"They are waiting for the American wolf to enter the Yemeni sheepfold. If they get mixed up in this, it will be easy for (Osama) bin Laden to say \’It\’s a new Afghanistan. Look, the regime has been unmasked.
"It takes very little to attract unemployed youth to jihadism or to persuade certain traditionally rebellious tribes to rise up against the government; if the Americans step in, it will be like dropping a present right in Bin Laden\’s lap."
Be it as it may, the Yemeni government has made it very clear that it does not want any outside intervention, and can handle problems of domestic insurgency itself.
"Yemen is not Afghanistan, nor Pakistan, where terrorists constantly launch attacks while the authorities try to respond. Here, we anticipate the threat. Yemen is not a hideout for the terrorists and will never be," Yemen\’s head of national security, Ali Anisi, said on Wednesday.
Ironically, senior Al-Qaeda figure Mohammed Omair said back on December 19 that he welcomed war with the United States rather than with the Yemeni army.
"We would win faster that way," he said.
Five days later he was killed in an air strike that some people speculate was carried out by US warplanes, rather than Yemeni ones.