An obscure civil war in the small Middle Eastern nation of Yemen may be in danger of becoming a proxy battleground for outside Arab governments. Worse, it could offer a chance for use of biological weapons and eventually turn into a breeding ground for terrorists.
These potential developments elevate the war from a remote clash in which the West's interests are not at stake into something more deadly.Iraq's dictator, Saddam Hussein, may be using the conflict to get revenge on some of his Arab enemies. Intelligence reports say Saddam may have sent 60 trained pilots to fly for northern Yemen. Saudi Arabia is offering to send more than 170 tanks to assist southern Yemen.
Saudi Arabia was a major ally of the United States during the 1990 gulf war that ousted Saddam from his invasion of Kuwait.
The pilots and tanks aside, the remote and rugged terrain of Yemen offers an ideal landscape for testing biological weapons that could be supplied by Iraq - no stranger to the use of such materials against people out of the public eye.
Iraq's nuclear and chemical weapons are considered to have been dismantled and eliminated in the gulf war aftermath, but Saddam also had been experimenting with biological warfare agents, including anthrax, botulism and a deadly fever virus. Iraq's suspected biological warfare capacity has never been adequately explored or inspected.
The war in Yemen is complicated by some unusual twists and turns. During the Cold War years, North Yemen had a primitive capitalist economy and was better off than South Yemen, a client state of the Soviet Union. The two countries merged into a single state in 1990 after South Yemen lost its Soviet patron.
During the gulf war, leaders in northern Yemen openly supported Saddam and offered sanctuary to Muslim fundamentalists who favored the overthrow of the pro-American ruling family in Saudi Arabia.
Former Marxist leaders in the south took the exact opposite view, thus endearing themselves in a small way to the United States and its Arab friends.
Since the gulf war, northern Yemen has been a gathering place and training ground for Muslim radicals who seek to undermine governments in Egypt, Algeria and other places.
The current clash over who is going to rule Yemen is undecided. The South has declared the merger no longer valid, but the North is ignoring the divorce pronouncement and pushing for conquest.
The United Nations doesn't need another peacekeeping assignment, but the world might be a safer place if U.N. troops could be on hand to prevent northern Yemen from trying out some of Saddam's nasty surprises in southern Yemen.