In a heated interview, BBC host Zeinab Badawi and Iranian-American Professor Mohammad Marandi clash over the roles of regional powerhouses Saudi Arabia and Iran in the catastrophic conflict in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia launched the war in Yemen in March 2015, in a – so far – unsuccessful attempt to bring back the former government to power.
At least 10,000 people have been killed in the war, according to the United Nations, while the world body estimates that nearly 19 million people – or 80% of the population – are in need of humanitarian aid.
Source: BBC World News
Date: 22 February, 2017
Of course you’re very opposed to the Turkish government because of course, it is a Sunni one, and that is the whole point really of Iran. That wherever you have a Sunni power, be it Turkey, be it Saudi Arabia – whatever side they’re on, you’re going to take the other side. Let’s just take one example of that: Yemen.
We saw in 2014 the Shia Houthis – you backing them, and the Saudi-led coalition backing of course the forces of the internationally-recognised government. We have this civil war now where the Iranians are arming the Houthi rebels with weapons, ammunition, and training them – so you are fuelling conflict too.
Well I think that that’s an extraordinary, dangerous accusation. The government in Afghanistan – is a Sunni government. The majority of the country are Sunni. Afghanistan has good relations with Iran, but poor relations with Pakistan. In Iraq – when ISIS was about to take Arbil, which is a Kurdish-Iraqi territory, Arbil – the Kurds there are predominantly Sunni – it was Iran that saved them from ISIS and no one else. In Syria, the minority Christians, Druze, Alawites, along with the Sufis and the Sunnis were being attacked by ISIS. So I find that extraordinary that anyone can make such an accusation. These are Wahhabi groups, and they do not I believe represent Sunni Islam whatsoever.
– Host: Okay you were criticise…
– In the case of Yemen…
You were criticising the Turks and I was just giving you the counter point. Mevlüt Çavusoglu for instance, the Turkish foreign minister, says in Iraq and Syria, that Iran is trying to create a Shia crescent, so I’m just saying it’s tit for tat. But I did ask you about Yemen, and now if you would please….
No – no – no – that’s not true…I will, but I was giving you documents that are American documents – photos that were shown by the Russian government – but in the case of Yemen, what happened was that Mansour Hadi was imposed upon the country. He was elected as the sole candidate in an election. He was supposed to be the transitional president for two years. After two years he’d refused to step aside. Ultimately the opposition groups went to the capital – the Iranians actually asked the Houthis not to take the capital, this is well-documented. But they felt that they had to take the capital. He resigned – he fled the city – ultimately he fled the country. After two years of slaughter – where the Saudis bomb villages, towns, hospitals, funerals, schools, weddings…
– Host: This is collateral damage, they –
– Marandi: They still haven’t been able to take the capital.
Host: Okay but I will ask you my question again, but just on that particular thing – yes of course there have been terrible civilian deaths and they’ve been criticised – you know – internationally far and wide, but they don’t target the civilians, they are targeting the Houthi rebels who sometimes are in civilian areas. But okay, could you just answer this point, that whatever the background to this, and you mentioned president Mansour Abdul Hadi, who is the current president of an internationally-recognised government by the United Nations and everybody else, whatever you may think about it, but the fact is Iran is supporting the Houthi rebels. Why are you doing that? You are prolonging a terrible conflict in this country.
Marandi: The Iranians are supporting the people that are being massacred, and who have been under siege, and the United States and Western countries, including the British government, have been giving the Saudis weapons – as well as cluster bombs – to slaughter innocent civilians, and the Saudis’ targeting has nothing to do with military targets, and the siege is preventing food from getting in. The Americans have created starvation alongside the Saudis – almost 20 million people. In Ethiopia, once upon a time, when people were dying because of a drought, you made – in the world there was all sorts of noise being made. Here, they are intentionally making people starve – Western governments – these are crimes against humanity.
– Host: But you are also complicit…
– Marandi: There is no escape from that…
Host: But the Iranians are also party to this conflict. So the main port in Yemen is Hudaydah, which is in the hands of the Houthi rebels, where we’re not seeing enough aid going through, and you’re absolutely right, 21-25 million people in Yemen – the total population 25 million – are in dire need of food aid, and there’s now a famine alert – is being sounded. But you are also involved in this conflict, so you must share some of this blame.
No of course not. The country is surrounded. These people are being massacred, and they use Iran as an excuse in order to justify this massacre. History will show what Obama and Western governments have done in Yemen.
– Host: Okay…
– Marandi: These are crimes against humanity, and they will never be forgiven.
– Host: Can I?
– Marandi: The Iranians don’t even have access to the country. It is surrounded by the Saudis.
Host: You –
Marandi: It is surrounded by the Americans. How can the Iranians provide aid for them?
Host: Well you know that weapons are supposed to be – are being smuggled. Let me tell you what ambassador Khalid al-Yamani – the ambassador to the United Nations of Yemen – says Houthi rebels have launched ballistic missiles in an indiscriminate and irresponsible manner, targeting the border with Saudi Arabia, resulting in hundreds of injuries and destruction of infrastructure, including schools and hospitals, and what he said was: the kinds of missiles used were manufactured in Iran, and that is according to a United Nations committee of experts on Yemen. A UN committee of experts.
– Marandi: Really?
– Host: Yes, they’re saying that the missiles are manufactured in Iran…
Marandi: Are you talking about the same United Nations – are you talking about the same United Nations that puts Saudi Arabia on a blacklist and removed it in four days?
Host: Well could you answer that question though?
Marandi: And Ban Ki Moon had to admit his shame?
Host: When you say that Iran can’t get equipment…
Marandi: No – this person – this person is not the representative of the Yemeni people. This person is someone who works for the Saudis. The reason why the Saudis have failed to take Sanaa – the capital of Yemen – is not because of some sect or group. It is because they failed against the will of the Yemeni people, and the Yemeni people are being sacrificed and murdered because Western countries are on the side of the Saudis, because of their money, because of their clout, and because of their alliance with the Saudi regime.
– Host: You won’t answer…
– Marandi: The Saudis are by the way, just like in Syria…
Host: You won’t answer…
Marandi: No I answered your question…that gentleman has…
Host: No it’s not the gentleman, it’s the UN committee of experts that have said these missiles were manufactured in Iran that are being used in Yemen, and I said that there are plenty of sources, Western diplomats who say that there are arms…ammunitions…
Marandi: I don’t know where these missiles come from…but what I can say is that whatever weapons the Ansarullah and the Yemeni army is using against the Saudis, is incomparable to the weapons that the Saudis have been using with the help of your government, with the help of the United States, and with the help of the French government.
– Host: Alright
– Marandi: And these are crimes against humanity
– Host: Okay, the fact…
– Marandi: And forcing people into hunger is unjustifiable – unjustifiable
– Host: But nobody is…I…
– Marandi: It’s criminal – it’s murderous. And the mainstream media’s silence is criminal.