Yemeni infighting

16 Aug 2019


THE conflict in Yemen has often been described as a confrontation between the Iran-backed Houthis, and the country’s internationally recognised government backed by Saudi Arabia. While Yemen may indeed be a battlefield in the wider Saudi-Iran confrontation, it should not be forgotten that there are conflicts within conflicts brewing even in the ranks of supposed allies. The fact is that Yemen is a patchwork of tribal and confessional alliances, and external intervention has only internationalised what is basically a domestic struggle for power. And indicating the complexity of Yemeni politics is the recent takeover of Aden — Yemen’s second major city and de facto capital of the Mansoor Hadi-led government — by a militia backed by the UAE. On Saturday, the Security Belt, a secessionist militia which supports the re-establishment of erstwhile South Yemen, took control of Aden, displacing government forces. This has put the UAE and Saudi Arabia, which backs Mr Hadi, in an odd position as Yemeni allies of the two coalition partners are now at daggers drawn. In another development, a top Houthi official was in Tehran on Tuesday to call upon Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The ayatollah reaffirmed Iran’s support for the Houthis and called for steps to prevent the division of Yemen. The meeting would reaffirm the view of Iranian support for the Houthis.

Where the developments in Aden are concerned, while the government-Houthi conflict shows no sign of ending soon, the split within the coalition ranks threatens to add a violent new angle to the ruinous Yemeni civil war. To prevent the situation from degenerating into one of complete anarchy and violence, the Saudi-led coalition must cease fire and help end this disastrous war. Iran should also encourage the Houthis to adopt the path of dialogue. Without an internationally backed effort to bring all of Yemen’s warring parties to the negotiating table to hammer out a Yemeni-led solution, the chances of this conflict ending soon are slim, to the detriment of the Yemeni people.

Published in Dawn, August 16th, 2019