The war in Yemen

March 30, 2015 12:40 am | Updated November 16, 2021 05:10 pm IST

Yet another Arab nation faces a humanitarian crisis following military conflict, as the localised >war between various forces in Yemen has taken on a regional dimension. After the besieged Yemeni government requested help, the Gulf Cooperation Council, led by Saudi Arabia, l >aunched air attacks against Houthi rebel positions in Yemen on March 26. The Saudis have deployed a large force with help from Arab countries such as Egypt and Jordan and others such as Pakistan and Sudan. This military action — without UN sanction — has also involved logistical help from the United States. The ostensible reason for the Saudi intervention is to temper the rising Iranian influence in its immediate neighbourhood. The U.S. involvement — which seems to have bipartisan support in the U.S. polity — is more of a reflexive reaction to register support for its Saudi allies and for the besieged transitional government in Yemen. Saudi Arabia and its allies who have joined the effort allege that the Houthis are being funded and armed by Iran.

The Houthis are a Zaidi Shia group that had participated in uprisings against former Yemeni President and long-time ruler Abdullah Saleh and who had felt left out from the transitional government that followed Saleh’s rule. It is the failure of the transitional government — which was set up with help from the Gulf Cooperation Council in 2012 — to accommodate the Houthis’ interests that fuelled the insurgency. The Houthis have a large degree of control over many areas of northwestern Yemen, including over the capital, Sana'a. The Houthi-led insurgency is not the only military conflict raging in Yemen. The al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leads another insurgency in the southeast along with the Ansar al-Sharia; this one is a Sunni Islamist rebellion. The regional intervention against the Houthis is bound to strengthen the AQAP. The inability of the ineffectual transitional government to effectively govern a nation that has steadily been divided on sectarian lines, and the weakening of the economy, have helped the various insurgent forces strengthen themselves. The Houthi forces’ consolidation in the south could have presented an opportunity for a new, more inclusive and legitimate government following a ceasefire, but that option is now ruled out as the conflict has been effectively regionalised with the Saudi intervention. Yemen increasingly appears to be heading towards Syria’s fate — a nation torn asunder into enclaves controlled by sectarian and fundamentalist groups and constantly at war among one another. What started as yet another promising chapter of the Arab Spring has now taken a turn that follows events elsewhere in the region — regression into a harsh Arab Winter.

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