Yemen Crisis – A Disgrace to Mankind

Introduction

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Yemen Crisis
Yemen, a strategically important country, that sits on the Bab al-Mandab strait, a narrow waterway linking the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden, through which much of the world’s oil shipments passes has witnessed the most horrific humanitarian crisis of all times.
The ongoing crisis in Yemen is an outcome of a fight for regional supremacy between the Houthi insurgents, who mainly dominate northern Yemen and Sunni dominant Yemeni government.
The Houthis follow Zaidism, which is a sect of Islam followed by 35% of Yemenis and is a Shia sect close to Sunni Islam, but it is not the same as Iran’s form of Shiism. Nonetheless, the Houthi movement is being supported by Iran.
Saudi Arabia which shares the northern border with Yemen feels threatened of the Shia insurgency in North Yemen that may get induced into Saudi Arabia and hence, it is leading a coalition of Sunni nations, like Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, Jordan and Sudan to restrict the ambitions of this insurgent group.
The Houthi movement had originally erupted after the American-led invasion of Iraq, another Shiite country in 2004 and their leader, Hussein al-Houthi, capitalized on popular anger of the Shia people to begin a revolt against the then President of Yemen Mr. Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was an American ally.
Hence, United States is providing logistical and intelligence support for the Saudi-led operation, “Decisive Storm” to prevent the Al Houthi’s from taking over the present government in Yemen.
Rise of Houthi Insurgency
The Houthi rebels, emerged in the 1990s as a movement to revive the Zaidi Shia traditions of Yemen’s historically dominant northern highlands.
The group originated in the north-western province of Saada to protest at what their followers said was discrimination against them and their stronghold by the central government.
Hence, the Houthi insurgency in Yemen is also known as the ‘Saada conflict’ that began as a civil war in the northern Yemini province of Sa’dah in June 2004, headed by the dissident cleric Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi.
Fighting later on spread to neighbouring provinces, including the Saudi Arabian province of Jizam.
A crackdown by Ali Abdullah Saleh, the then Yemen’s president, in 2004 led to the killing of founder Hussein al-Houthi, followed by six military campaigns to quell guerrilla warfare in the group’s stronghold of Saada.
Later in 2011, the eruption of protests in Yemen against President Saleh’s 32 year long autocratic rule expanded the Houthis’ clout beyond Saada. Their populist and anti-corruption rhetoric won them some support in Sunni areas too.
Finally, Saleh was forced to step down and was replaced by Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, his deputy, in 2012.
However, known to be a manipulative politician, Saleh joined hands with the Houthis and started to support them discretely in their mission to topple the Hadi regime.
The ex-President continued to exert a major influence and control over the Yemeni armed forces. Slowly, the relatives and allies of Saleh managed to take over the command and control of most of the Yemini army, while those who resisted, such as the 310th Armoured Brigade in Amran, were easily crushed.
Huge stockpiles of weapons, including tanks, humvees, machine guns, missile launch pads, and large stockpiles of ammunition were obtained by military units, and later shared among Houthi-supporting tribal leaders.
Facing little to no resistance from the soldiers and police posted by Hadi to protect Sanaa, the Houthis asserted their control on the city in July 2014 with the explicit help from the Republican Guards organised by members of the Saleh family.

Major Intensification of Crisis: 2015
Abdul-Malik al-Houthi is the present leader of the Houthi’s. He has been able to garner greater support, not only from within the country, but is now being openly supported by Iran and has been highly audacious in his actions in recent times.
On 20 January 2015, the rebels attacked the President’s residence and seized the Presidential Palace in the capital city of Sana. President Hadi, who was in the Palace at the time of the attack, was safely evacuated, and he fled to Saudi Arabia.
Both, President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the Prime Minister Khalid Bahah tendered their resignation to the parliament on 22nd January, as they appeared helpless to tackle the deteriorating situation in Yemen. However, their resignation was not accepted.
By 26 March 2015, the al Houthis also seized al Mansoura and Sheikh Othman districts in northern Aden and captured Badr Military Camp in southern Yemen.
The pro-government forces comprising of soldiers loyal to President Hadi and predominantly Sunni southern tribesmen and separatists launched a counter offensive on 27th March and regained the lost territory of al Hawta, Lahij and al Anad Airbase. On the same day pro-Hadi forces also regained control of Badr Military Camp and Aden International Airport.
Mr Hadi’s government established temporary offices at Aden, which is the de-facto second capital of Yemen. However, most of the cabinet members, including President Hadi, have ever since remained in a self-imposed exile at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
A decision was taken on 28 March 2015 by the Arab league in a summit at Sharm al Sheikh, Egypt, to form a joint military force to surmount the challenge of restoring normalancy in Yemen.
Consequently, airstrikes were launched against al Houthi positions in the capital city of Sanaa with the objective of reinstating Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government. In the airstrikes a number of Houthi leaders were killed.
The coalition forces imposed a land and sea blockade on Yemen, ostensibly to prevent Iran from supplying arms to the Houthi rebels. This decision was taken after a missile was launched by the Houthis that fell near the International Airport at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on 05th November 2015.
Meanwhile, fighters from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) affiliates took advantage of the chaos by seizing parts of the south Yemen and stepped up their attacks in government-controlled Aden, Yemen’s second capital city.

Stake Holders in the Yemen Crisis
The Houthis: Zaidi Shia-led rebels from North Yemen, who, under Abdul-Malik al-Houthi have grown in influence over the years and are now in control of Sanaa, the capital of Yemen.
Yemen Government under President Hadi: Yemen has plunged into a civil war, the government control has disintegrated and President Hadi fled the country and is presently on a self-imposed exile in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Loyalists of ex-President of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh: Despite being forced out to hand over power in 2011, the former Yemeni president had remained an influential figure. His supporters have been fighting alongside the Houthis.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula: AQAP is considered to be the most dangerous offshoot of al-Qaeda. It is taking advantage of the conflict to reorganise and recruit fresh cadres and it opposes both the Houthis and President Hadi.
Islamic State: A Yemeni affiliate of IS that seeks to eclipse the influence of AQAP in Yemen. It is supporting the government forces to fight the Houthis and also the AQAP.
Saudi Arabia and its Sunni Allies: Saudi Arabia is the most influential Sunni country of the Middle East; it has formed a coalition with eight other Sunni nations primarily to counterweight the influence of Iran, the most powerful Shia nation of the Middle East.
Republic of Iran: The crisis in Yemen is eventually boiling down to a fight for gaining regional control and supremacy between the two heavy weights of Middle East, i.e. Saudi Arabia (Sunni) and Iran (Shia).
This Shia-Sunni “turf war” has resulted in the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East region and is the primary reason for the localised crisis’s in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, UAE, Lebanon, etc to have escalated to the level of a full-scale regional conflict.
United States of America: The Saudi Arabia led coalition receives logistical and intelligence support from the US, UK and France. Involvement of USA in this conflict is primarily for two reasons:
Firstly, the Houthis had come into existence as a rebel group against the US, when it had attacked Iraq in 2004(another Shia country), and hence, the growth of its influence in the region will be detrimental to US interests.
Secondly, United States has been traditionally aligned with Saudi Arabia and Iran has been always considered as a treat to its interests in the region. Therefore, it is obvious that USA is backing up the Sunni coalition against the Shiite uprising.

Present Situation
Presently, the Houthi rebels backed by Iran have taken much of the north of Yemen, including its capital, Sanaa and are battling government forces holding out in pockets of the country and the southern city of Aden.
In a recent dramatic development the previous President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was fighting alongside the Houthi rebels to oust out the present President, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi and had shown an inclination to change sides to join the Saudi-backed government, was killed by the Houthi rebels in an ambush outside Sanaa on 04 December 2017.
It is believed that he might have offered a chance of brokering a settlement between the two sides. Now that outside chance of getting anywhere close to a resolution to the conflict has also vanished.

Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen
The government of Mr Hadi has been struggling to deal with a variety of problems, including attacks by al-Qaeda, a separatist movement in the south, the continuing loyalty of many serving military officers to the party of the previous President, as well as corruption, unemployment and food insecurity.
Airstrikes by Saudi-led multinational coalition that backs the President is the leading cause for civilian casualties. More than 8,600 people have been killed and 49,000 injured since March 2015. Out of the total casualties mentioned above, 3, 233 civilians have been reportedly killed by coalition forces.
Children account for 1,184 of those who were killed and 1,592 of those injured. Some 400,000 children are at risk of starvation and another millions need urgent care.
The humanitarian crisis is so grave that every 10 minutes a child dies in Yemen of preventable causes, like malnutrition, diarrhoea and respiratory infection. At least 55% out of the total displaced, due to the conflict, are children.
Yemen has seen the world’s largest ever Cholera outbreak. Since, April 2017, some 913,000 suspected case of Cholera have been reported and 2196 deaths have taken place.
The conflict and the blockade imposed by the coalition have also left 20 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and created the world’s largest food security emergency.
Yemen was importing 90% of its food and with commercial import restrictions through Red Sea ports has pushed three million people into starvation.
The shortages of fuel, food and other essentials, has driven up the prices and literally devastated lives and livelihoods. The price of wheat flour has risen by 30 per cent, while the price of fuel has doubled and that of trucked water has skyrocketed by 600 per cent in some locations.

Conclusion
The United Nations has dispatched a team to Riyadh to discuss the issue with the coalition and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to consider reopening the ports, so that unimpeded access could be urgently granted for imports that are a lifeline for millions of people.
The possibility of conflict resolution in Yemen appears distant and the future of its people is predictably bleak in the face of the existing imponderables. Hope better sense prevails amongst the stake holders of the conflict and they at least look at mitigating the sufferings of the civilians.

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