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Yemen Prepares for Civil War

By: Nadia Al-Sakkaf, Special to The Media Line

SANA’A – Preparations for civil war between former president Saleh and the Houthis, the Shiite tribe that has openly admitted its religious and political affiliation with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard; and forces loyal to President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is backed by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and is recognized internationally as the legitimate president of Yemen, are continuing.

So far, the military balance of power favors the Houthi/Saleh alliance since it controls almost all of the army and since September last year has taken over state institutions in the coupd’étatannounced through a constitutional declaration in the capital Sana’a by the Houthis on February 6. The military support from Iran to the Saleh/Houthi alliance continues, the latest of which was, according to navigation sources of Al-Salif Port in Hodeidah on the Red Sea, was 150 tons of military equipment landing in the port last month aboardthe Iranian-flagged ship Sharmen.

Consequently, the embassies ofseveral Gulf States have recently relocated their diplomatic missions to the southern city of Aden where Hadi now resides after escaping at the end of February from Houthi-enforced house-arrest in the capital Sana’a. Hadi’s support also comes from the southern armed Popular Committees who were vital in removing Al-Qa’ida from the Abyan in 2012 when the organized army could not.

The call for war was officially announced by Houthi leader Abdulmalik Al-Houthi in a televised speech on the Houthi-affiliated TV channel Al-Masira over the weekend. He warned that they will no longer tolerate slow political negotiations and will take matters into their own hand; and called for a nationwide preparedness to fight the “enemies.” The speech comes one day after President Hadi equated the Houthis to Al-Qa’ida, and from Aden city he called on the Yemeni army and people to resist them the Houthis as they continue to take over the country.

Moreover, the last American anti-terrorist force – according to the State Department including some 30 Navy SEALs and Army Delta Force troops — departed from Al-Anad air base near Aden on Saturday in two shifts, shortly after their trainees for the past two years, Yemeni anti-terrorist intelligence force members, fled the base as alleged Ansar Al-Sharia elements took over Lahj governorate where the base is located.

Political analyst and journalist Fadhl Al-Manhouri commented to The Media Line that this evacuation of anti-terrorism forces is a bad signal that the US has concluded that it cannot fight terrorism in Yemen under the current circumstances. “It basically says there is nothing left to do in Yemen as the country approaches a civil war,” he said. Al-Manhouri added that on Monday the British Special Forces also began evacuating, providing further confirmation that the situation in Yemen has reached an irreversible direction towards conflict. He added that the escape of many terrorists from the prisons during the last two weeks is an additional threat since most are likely to rejoin their cells and carry out new terrorist attacks.

The clearance of Al-Anad base indicates end of the last official American security presence in Yemen, although elements of US intelligence remain in the country while keeping a low profile. Samah Gameel, executive director of the Aden-based Yemen Center for Human Rights Studies, said that the Houthis’ call for war against the south is a repetition of the 1994 civil war, only worse. “We are concerned that this time there are other elements such as armed groups looting weapons from security facilities and breaking into prisons and releasing violent criminals and terrorists, which is what happened in Aden’sAl-Mansoura Prison on March 20,” she said. The center, along with another seven civil society organizations based in Aden, have created an emergency committee to report on the conflict and document human rights violations.

This escalation of political positions comes in a time when United States and Iran seem close to reaching an agreement regarding Iran’s development of nuclear energy. Despite this proximity, Iran and the US have voiced very different public positions towards the Yemeni crisis. Iran’s last official statement on Sunday demanded that President Hadi resign, while the US administration continued to support Hadi as the legitimate president for Yemen. The American position is in line with the Gulf States with Saudi Arabia in the forefront, offering to host political talks between Yemeni political factions in Riyadh in early or mid-April. It has also been confirmed that the United Nations will continue to facilitate talks between the rival parties but that the talks would actually take place in Doha while the signing of the final agreement will take place in Riyadh.

Already there are around 200 names suggested to take part in the new talks including heads of political parties, tribal leaders, social movements and activists. Although all political factions except the Houthis have agreed to take part in new political talks,former President Saleh’s party, the GPC, said they will take part in the talks only if the focus is the post-Hadi Yemen, signaling his resentment of the current president who replaced him in November 2011 following Saleh’s own ouster in what was called the “Arab Spring.” Interestingly, the same view was shared by Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hussein Amir Abdollahian, who advised Hadi to resign in order to save Yemen from a civil war.

On the other hand, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal voiced to media his country’s support for Hadi and said that the Saudis,“will take the necessary measures should the need arise” to defend Yemen’s sovereignty.

Already, the kingdom has been supporting Hadi’s call to arms with financial backing according to members of the campaign based in Aden, however, it remains a possibility that the Saudis would also support Hadi with military jets should the need arise, especially considering that hisIranian-backedfoes used Yemen’s air force to strike Hadi’s residence in an attempt to assassinate him on 19 March.

These talks would become an alternative to the on-going political negotiations supervised by the UN Secretary General’s envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, who has been struggling to make progress in Yemen since the talks started two months ago in the aftermath of President Hadi and the Yemeni government resigning. In his last briefing to the Security Council on Sunday, Benomar said that Yemen was on a “rapid downward spiral” as the conflict took on “worrying sectarian tones and deepening north-south divisions.”

In response to talk of the new political initiative, the Houthi leader not only dismissed any negotiation — including the one his representatives are already part of in Sana’a — but also accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of plotting against Yemeni interests and declared that anyone participating in this new project will be targeted as an enemy of the people. “The revolutionaries will not continue their tolerance and patience, it is time for serious action!” declared Abdulmalik Al-Houthi on Sunday.

The Houthis started a nationwide takeover in September 2014, starting from the northern governorate Sa’ada, and since that time have taken control over all northern governorates except for Marib; and are at what was the southern border in 1990 before the unity between north and south Yemen. An eye witness who travelled by road from Aden to Sana’aon Monday explained that all check points along the southern border were controlled by the popular committees while the northern check points were controlled by the Houthis who were raising the Houthi flag adorned with a sloganwhich calls for “Death to America!,” “Death to Israel,” and “Damnation to the Jews!”