Wednesday, 19 August 2009

The army may and may not crush Al Houthi rebellion

By Nasser Arrabyee 18/08/2009

Yemen is in war again after one-year-old of shaky truce with rebels. The government has decided to strike the Al Houthi rebels in the north of the country with "an iron fist" after they posed a big threat to its sovereignty this time.
This time the war is deferent from the previous five wars. Al Houthi Shiite rebels tried earlier this month not only to block the road connecting the capital Sana'a with the province of Sa'ada where they are based but also blocking the highway between Saudi Arabia and Yemen in Al Malahaid area.

Hundreds were killed and injured and tens of thousands displaced from their houses in the wide offensive launched by troops over the last 10 days.

The Shiite armed rebellion erupted for the first time in June 2004, when the rebel leader Hussein Badr Al Deen Al Houthi entered into confrontation with the army.

The government accused Al Houthi rebels of wanting to restore a clerical and royal rule that was overthrown in 1962 after ruling different parts of Yemen for about 1000 years.

Al Houthis keep saying they only defend themselves despite the fact that they obviously try to establish what can be called "A state inside a state" . They have their own courts; they hold trials and issue verdicts, and they levy money from the citizens for running their system, for example. They teach students in tens of schools their own thoughts which clearly say the rulers must be from the descendents of the Prophet Mohammed such as Al Houthi's family.

The armed conflict is not far from the regional political conflict. After the breakout of the war on August 10th, 2009, Iran accused Saudi Arabia of participating in the air strikes on the Shiite rebels, who are also accused by Yemeni government of receiving support from Iran.

Internal and external mediations have failed to end the five-year old conflict. In February 2008, representatives of Al Houthi rebels and those of the Yemeni government signed a Qatari-brokered deal in Doha. The deal mainly required the rebels to descend from mountains and lay down the weapons in addition to the three main leaders leaving Yemen for Qatar.

The government was mainly required by the deal to reconstruct the war-torn areas in Sa'ada. An ongoing reconstruction process worth $US 50 million was stopped by this round of war, which the sixth round since 2004.

Unlike the previous campaigns, the government troops use all kind of weapons against the rebels focusing mainly on the air strikes in an obvious attempt to destroy the fortifications and weapon stores in the strongholds of Mutrah and Dhahyan where the leadership is based.

Although the government seems to be determined to crush the rebellion and restore its solemnity and prestige, it says it will stop the offensive if the rebels withdraw from all areas they occupied before this round of war, and remove all check points they established in different places in Sa'ada. Also the rebels should hand over the military and civil equipment they seized from the army and from the government's utilities. And going down from mountains, and stopping blocking the roads and sabotages acts .And they should also release the kidnapped people from Sa'ada and stop interfering in the affairs of the local authority.

The sixth condition set by the government to stop the war was asking Al Houthi rebels to clarify the fate of the six foreigners who were kidnapped last June.

The government said it had information that Al Houthi rebels were behind the kidnapping of the six foreigners (five-member German family and a British man).

Al Houthis rebels rejected the government's conditions and threatened to react in an unexpected and stronger way than the previous wars. They also denied they kidnapped the foreigners.

"The kidnapping was only a conspiracy to launch a war as we said from the beginning, using this issue now is the evidence it was a conspiracy," Mohammed Abdul Salam, Al Houthi spokesman, told Al Ahram Weekly over phone from Sa'ada.

So, why the war has erupted now for the sixth time although the President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced on July17th, 2008, it will stop for ever?

And will the military option end the conflict, and who is supporting Al Houthi?

The Ahram Weekly has tried to find answers for these questions from experts and people in the field.

Najeeb Ghallab, researcher and political analyst at Sana'a university says, the war has erupted now because Al Houthi had an expansion strategy, big dominance over Sa'ada, new supporters in some other areas like Al Jawf, Amran and Sana'a.

" Before this war, Al Houthi rebels blockaded military camps and arrested a lot of soldiers, so, it was either to let them expand until they attack on the capital Sana'a or to strike them with an iron fist and impose the sovereignty of the state," Ghallab said.

The military option, however, may impose the control of the State, but it will not necessarily solve the problem, he said.

After imposing the control of the State, he said, the solution will be from the tribesmen of Sa'ada having a unified position against the rebels.

"The tribesmen should tell the rebels clearly in a tribal conference, for instance, we will all be against you, if you do not lay down the weapons and descend from mountains," he said.

For who is behind Al Houthi, the researcher said Iran Mullas have the big hand in supporting Al Houthi rebels.

"Iran has strategic goals from that support. They believe an army will come from Yemen to support the long-awaited 12th Imam Al Mahdi," he said.

"The collapse of the State in Yemen will threaten Saudi Arabia, the only force that can confront Iran. So, Iran wants this collapse to happen."

The lawyer Yahya Al Mukhtafi from Sa'ada disagrees with the researcher Ghallab saying Al Houthi rebels receive the support from inside Yemen not from out side.

"The strength of Al Houthi comes from the weapons he captured from the previous wars, and also from the sympathy of a lot of people all over the country, especially from the Hashemites, because the war was declared against the Hashemites at the beginning," said Al Mukhtafi who is Hashemite and close to Al Houthi family.

"I do not think there is an external support, and if there is any, it is from sympathetic organizations and individuals."
On his part, the Sana'a University professor, Ahmed Al Daghashi, author of the book "Al Houthi phenomenon" says, the problem in Sa'ada has very complicated dimensions, ideological, political, geographical and developmental.

"Although the military option is very important at the moment but it will not end the problem without treatment of those dimensions," Al Daghshi said.

He believes there is internal and external support for the rebels. "There is external support from some officials of the State," he said.

For external support, he said, it is more political than ideological.

"I mean the regional political conflict is the main reason behind the external support," he said.

"I think there is only some coordination and cooperation, because of the similarity, but this does not mean there is concurrence between Al Houthism and Iranian Shiite which is based on the belief of the 12th Imam, Twelver Shiite."

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