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The What, The Why, and The Houthis…

Yemen’s Civil War.

Amid the blitz of media coverage surrounding the upsurge of fighting in Yemen one narrative dominates. It is that Yemen risks descending into civil war. The fault in this line of thinking is that it is at least several months out of date.

Yemen is already in a many sided state of civil war and it is a small, but important, part of the Shia/Sunni civil war being waged across the region.

Over the weekend the Houthi fighters from the north moved south extending their power by taking control of Yemen’s third largest city Taiz which is predominantly Sunni. This followed a coordinated bombing campaign against Houthi targets which killed 152 people and was claimed by a Sunni terrorist group pledging allegiance to Islamic State.

The Houthis are from the Zaidi sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam, and are supported by Iran. In September they took control of the capital Sana’a. Last month President Hadi, who is backed by the United States, fled to the southern city of Aden, about 100 miles from Taiz.

It is no suprise that Mr Hadi is also supported by Saudi Arabia as part of the cold war between it and Iran, a war which has become boiling hot in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.

The situation is so bad that the Americans, who had closed their embassy in the capital, have now withdrawn their remaining 100 Special Forces from an airbase in the south. This means training of Yemeni forces is suspended, and constricts their ability to conduct drone strikes on Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

AQAP was the group behind the 2009 Christmas Day ‘Underpants bomber’ plot to bring down a Detroit bound passenger jet. An affiliate is thought to be responsible for the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris last January.

Yemen is now in a situation where Shia and Sunni groups have the military means to fight each other for power, and the willingness to so do. In addition AQAP has been a problem for several years, threatening to turn the country into another failed state from where violence will be projected onto the outside world.  With an Islamic State affiliate now seemingly active things can only get worse as the two Sunni terror groups will challenge each other, challenge what is left of Hadi’s government, and attempt to further stir division between Shia and Sunni in the country.

The Houthi leader Abdel Malik Al Houthi has warned, “What is happening in Iraq and Syria should be examples for Yemen. And sadly, we are starting to face what those countries faced.”

There are two problems with this statement. The first is that Al Houthi bears a share of responsibility for the current dire state of events; the second is that Yemen is already facing a Syria/Iraqi situation.

South and North Yemen only united in  1990. We are now watching it fall apart.


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