Hadi Resigns - Huthis Solidify Position in Sanaa
Yemeni President Rabbo Mansour Hadi resigned on Thursday, deepening the chaos that now reigns in Sanaa. The Huthi insurgents who had stormed presidential palace on Tuesday are now solidifying their position as the new rulers in the country’s capital, something their leader, Abd al-Malik al-Huthi, had all but declared in a televised address earlier this week. They are now in control of government institutions, including military and security forces.
Huthis, predominantly members of the Zaydi branch of Shia Islam, are strongly backed by Iran’s Quds Force, who has provided them with military and financial aid needed to expand their insurgency against the pro-Western government of former president Hadi. It is not clear, however, if the Iranians directed or even expected the Huthi sweeping move into Sanaa in September, which took many by surprise, like ISIL’s march into Mosul last June. It appears any armed group, Shia or Sunni, with strong will power and some local support can march into a major city in the region there days and not expect any stiff resistance from the militaries and security forces! The Huthis certainly did borrow a page from ISIL book of conquest.
But the Iranians are using the Huthi victory and rapid pace of the events in Sanaa to solidify their own position in Yemen. This could be the first Islamic Republic-sponsored regime change in the region. It is also a payback time. Iran’s supreme leader had recently accused Saudi Arabia of manipulating oil markets to bleed Iran financially. Now Iran can threaten Saudi influence in the region through a Huthi-led government in Sanaa. Ironically the death of Saudi Arabia’s king Abdullah came on the heel of Hadi’s resignation. The Saudis on their part accuse the Huthis of being a proxy for Shia Iran intent to undermine Saudi security on its southern border with Yemen. But it is not clear if the Huthis can be regarded as an Iranian proxy in the same way as Shia militias in Iraq and Syria. But they now depend on Iran to solidify their position in the country’s capital.
Events in Sanaa could most likely send the country into a full-fledged civil war, threatening a Syria-like disintegration of Yemen with different sects, tribes and groups fighting each other. The Zaydis, now in power in Sanaa, constitute only a third of Yemen’s population of 24 million, which is majority Sunni Muslim, in a predominantly tribal society. The Quds Force is expected to implement its successful Syrian and Iraqi tactics in Yemen: significant arms shipment; financial assistance; deployment of advisers and senior officers; providing training and strategic planning; and transforming some 50,000-strong Huthi fighting force into semi-official Shia militia to take the lead in military and security operations in the coming civil war.
Al-Qaida in Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the powerful branch of the terrorist organization, is based in Yemen, and enjoys the support of some of the tribal leaders, especially in Ma’rib, the city in the country’s heartland with its own oil and gas industry. The Huthis probably want to control the oil infrastructure of area, including the oil pipeline, to expand their hold on central and north Yemen. The AQAP and the tribes close to it will, however, most probably will put up a fight to keep their influence Ma’rib. AQAP will also use the chaos in Sanaa to advance their position in the country. The Hadi government had worked closely with the U.S. in waging an offensive against AQAP in recent years, including continuous drone attacks against their positions and leadership. With Hadi’s resignation and the Huthi takeover in Sanaa, that threat against the AQAP might now diminish.
Meanwhile, the southern Yemen, once independent under a socialist government, merging with the north in 1990, could witness a new separatist movement. In fact, the Yemeni army’s 4th Military Regional Command, based in Aden, the former capital of South Yemen, is apparently the only military unit that is opposing the Huthi insurgency.
Photo credit: A Huthi fighter mans a checkpoint in Sanaa; 21 January 2015 (Mohamed al-Sayaghi/Reuters/Al-Minitor)