Some Notes on the Conflict in Yemen

What is being reported right now

The reporting on the conflict in Yemen, even within the peace and justice movement, has shifted significantly over the course of the Saudi bombing campaign.    The beginning is getting lost in the chaotic and politically fraught present.  Not surprisingly, all the latent factions in Yemen’s unstable past are now activated at cross purposes in a ground war that is being fought under the shadow of incessant bombing by the U.S. supported, Saudi led coalition, and under the pressures of a Saudi initiated siege which has been honored by, not only those nations that have to fear retaliation, but by the western powers who pretend to gather aid for the Yemeni people while it sits on the American base in Djibouti.

The latest reports tell of battles in Aden between the ‘Houthi rebels’ and supporters of the ‘Hadi government’.    They run under headlines that accuse the ‘Houthis’ of mass murder of civilans and ‘the worst day for the people of Aden’.  Killing 100 civilians is no doubt a bad thing.   This is a heated battle in Aden, and Ansarullah ( the real name of the organization led by the Houthis) is under a lot of pressure, perhaps more than at any time since they began their march to Sana’a last year to gain some influence in the government.   Of course, the Saudi led coalition has killed  thousands and wounded tens of thousands in the last several months.   They have special forces on the ground in Aden so perhaps they are being more circumspect in their targeting that they have been in the past.

What are the underlying forces

As it turns out, there is a natural opposition in Aden to the northern based Ansarullah movement, a hangover from a previous civil war in the 1960s.  There is a strong cessionist character to the movement active in Aden,  so these forces are not necessarily backers of ex president Hadi, and they have some residual antagonism towards the Saudis who backed the other side in a previous war.   In Standoff between Hadi and Aden security chief, a March 15th article in the Gulf News, which is published in the UAE, a member if the Saudi led coalition, Mr.  Hadi recruited popular committees (militias) to support him from his home province of  Abyan and Shabwa province, which are North and East of Aden to guard the city against the Houthis.   According to that same Gulf News article, Hadi had other problems in Aden, including the fact that the chief of security repeatedly refused to step down when Hadi attempted to replace him with a trusted member of his inner circle..

There have been some concerns about the fact that ex ex president Ali Abdiullah Saleh, who is a Zaidi from the north like the leadership of Ansarullah, but who persecuted them through much of his tenure in power, is now supporting their movement.  The homeland of the Anasrullah leadership is on the Saudi border, and the Saudis have brutally attacked them again and again since the unification of Yemen under President Saleh.

Ali Abdullah Saleh did what he could to keep the peace and whatever was necessary to stay in power.   He manipulated events to stay in power but he was never a fully compliant proxy, and when it seemed the people would support his removal from office, the United States and their Saudi Cats Paw immediately moved to do so, replacing him with a more compliant but less popular vice president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who won an uncontested election, and clearly did not have the capability to lead the country.

Saleh, like the more recent ex-president Hadi who replaced him,  was backed by the United States and the Saudis, and had some critical responsibilities to support their agendas if he wanted to keep his job.  Now, he is backing Ansarullah, which has facilitated their path through good relations with a broad sector of the military which he still controls.   Of course he wants his job back.  On the other hand, Ansarullah is seeking to form a power sharing government that is an indigenous government without Saudi or western strings.

The most recent news from US and Saudi sources is that Aden has fallen to the ‘supporters of Hadi’, a coalition of anti Houthi/Ansarullah forces that includes Hadi’s popular committees some of whom may be fighting fo the secession of South Yemen, UAE special ops forces who have been in Aden training locals for some time, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninusula (AQAP), and Saudi air support with U.S. logistical backiing.  Even so,  it is far from clear that Ansarullah has been routed from the city, and they continue to control large areas of the country as a whole despite horrific bombing campaigns everywhere they have a presence.

According to a recent article in  the Gulf News, Emirati technical team to reopen Aden International Airport, Minister calls on international organisations to start going to Aden’s ports and airport to provide relief a team from the United Arab Emirates is going to reopen the Aden airport, which will presumably make it possible for some aid to enter the country.  Whether the victory of the anti Houthi coalition is stable enough to support an orderly disbursement of aid is an open question.   What kind of aid and to whom it will be distributed has not been clarified either. for now,  I wouldn’t be betting on the desperate people in the Ansarullah controlled interior of the country.

Ironically, the Washington Post and the New York Times initially called this situation correctly until the intentions of the U.S. government to support a Saudi usurpation of Yemeni sovereignty became clear.  Here are some questions and answers based on their early coverage of the Houthis in Sana’a.

On January 22, The Washington Post asked:  Who are the Houthis, the group that just toppled Yemen’s government? 

Why do they refer to the Ansarullah organization ‘The Houthis’:

After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Hussein al-Houthi, one of the leaders of the Believing Youth, began staging anti-American protests and became a vocal critic of then-president Ali Abdullah Saleh. After Houthi’s followers clashed with the government, Yemeni forces killed him. Following his death, the group was renamed after him

Is Ansarullah (the Houthis) a tribal or sectarian movement?

the government’s harsh tactics in the north found them a broad set of allies.

Has Ansarullah engaged in the democratic process sponsored by the government and the United Nations?

The group took advantage, consolidating their control in the northwest and taking part in the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) after Saleh stepped down from power.

Was the Houthi/Ansarullah march into Sana’a intended to precipitate a coup?

While it initially looked like a coup, Houthi leaders offered Hadi a power-sharing accord that would have allowed him to stay in power. However, Yemen’s leaders balked at the deal and resigned en masse.

Are Zaydis Shia fanatics?

Zaydis are considered to be theologically closer to Sunni Muslims than other Shiites.

So, is Ansarullah (the Houthis) a sectarian movement or engaged in a tribal power play?

That analysis was echoed last year by Silvana Toska, a Middle East researcher, who noted that the Houthis were supported by “vast numbers of Yemenis who view them as a real opposition to the elites that is untainted by corruption.”

Here is what the New York Times initially had to say on February 2nd, about the events that precipitated the departure of ex Yemeni president Hadi from Sana’a:  U.S. Embassy Shuts in Yemen, Even as Militant Leader Reaches Out 

How did the Ansarullah leader, the leader of the Houthis present his intentions?

In his first interview since the Yemeni government collapsed, the leader of the Houthi militants who control Sana, the capital, depicted his movement as eager to share power with its rivals and to reach out to the country’s traditional allies,

 Was there an ongoing effort to negotiate a settlement between the Ansarullah/Houthis and the Hadi government?

Saleh Ali al-Sammad, the senior Houthi leader in Sana, made the remarks as a new round of United Nations-mediated talks among the Houthis and other major political parties to try to form a government [had] entered a second day.

 Did the Ansarullah/Houthi leader seem alienated and prepared to fight for absolute control?

Mr. Sammad’s remarks, and his unusual willingness to be interviewed by an American news organization, suggested that the Houthis were anxious to climb down from the position they took on Friday, when they declared a unilateral plan for forming a new government.

 Did he seem unwilling to negotiate?

Mr. Sammad indicated that the constitutional declaration was not open for discussion, but said, referring to the Houthis’ governance plan, “All the details are open to negotiation.”

 Clear as a bell!

“Ansar Allah does not want anything more than partnership, not control,” Mr. Sammad said, using the formal name of the Houthis’ movement. “This was not a coup.”

 Why was Hadi excluded from further negotiations and placed under house arrest?

Mr. Sammad said Mr. Hadi could not be restored to power because he had resigned of his own will. Aides to Mr. Hadi, as well as other government officials, have said he remains under house arrest. Mr. Sammad said Houthi officials were guarding him for his own safety, including protecting him from militants of Al Qaeda who might want to retaliate against him because of his support for the United States.

“It is for his own protection,” Mr. Sammad said. “But he is free to receive visitors, and diplomats have been able to see him.”

So, as you can see, before the truth became politically incorrect, neither the Washington Post nor the New York Times saw Ansarullah, the so calle ‘Houthi’ movement as a terrorist threat in Yemen.   Both were aware that it was a popular movement with broad appeal within the Yemeni society, especially in the north of the country.

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  1. And you thought you’re the only one who knew that both NYT and WP lie when it serve western imperialism? The NYT, WP, WSJ, CNN, BBC, FoxNews, and almost all western mainstream media outlets, happens to be listed at Israel Hasbara Committee, being “Israel Friendly”.

    These idiots were praising Israel’s support for the embattled Shia Zaidi tribes in the 1960s. The Houthis happens to be an off-shoot of Zaidi clan.

    According to Israeli hasbara (propaganda) network, Houthis (Shias), Hamas (Sunnis), Islamic Jihad (Sunnis), Hizbullah (Shias) and Syrian Assad regime (non-religious Ba’athists) are all Iran’s “proxies”. However, they all receive only a fraction of monetary aid from Iran as compared to what Israel has received from United States ($3 trillion) and Saudi Arabia ($12 billion).

    A secret cable confirms that Tehran doesn’t supply arms to Houthis. The Zaidi Shia fighters buy them from the Yemeni black market and sometimes from Yemeni army.

    These anti-Muslim warmongers, however, don’t like to admit that before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the US, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel supported Yemen’s Zaidi ruler Imam Muhammad al-Bader during Saudi-Egypt war in Yemen in 1962. At that time, anti-Israel Nasserite Egypt was the ‘mullah-ruled’ Iran.

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