What the Houthis have cost Yemen

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Ali Abdullah Saleh



THE killing of former Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh Monday during fighting with the Iran-aligned Houthi militia in the capital Sanaa is just another example of changing equations with allies turning into enemies while creating further confusion in the ongoing battle for Sanaa. Following Saleh’s death a teetering nation is sure to be put at the edge of an abyss. It is going to further muddle the Yemeni quagmire created by more than 2-1/2 years of civil war.

Saleh had allied himself with the Houthis against the coalition forces that intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015 aiming to restore the internationally recognized government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi after the Houthis forced him into exile. But in a sudden change of dynamics when Saleh broke ranks with the Houthis it triggered a fresh round of clashes in the capital that culminated in Saleh’s death, while the civil war raged on, compounding one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in recent times.

The clashes underscore the complex situation in Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the Middle East, where a civil war has killed more than 10,000 people since 2015, displaced more than two million people, caused a cholera outbreak infecting nearly one million people and put the country on the brink of famine. The complexity was underscored by the aspersions of the friends turned foes in pinning the blame on each other in this fresh crisis. Saleh’s General People›s Congress (GPC) party, accused the Houthis of failing to honor the truce and said in a statement on its website that the Houthis bear responsibility for dragging the country into a civil war. It also called on supporters, including tribal fighters, to “defend themselves, their country, their revolution and their republic...”

The statement seemed to sum up the situation as the Houthis battled on with murderous intent on the sixth day of heavy urban warfare during which the death toll has jumped to at least 125 with 238 wounded, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. Sanaa residents reported intense fighting with families cowering in their homes as explosions rocked the city.

The callousness of the Houthis and their intention to loot and ravage the country was evident from the Yemeni Coalition to Monitor Human Rights Violations (YCMHRV) report issued in 2015 documenting the atrocities in Yemen’s capital Sanaa, along with the governorates of Taiz, Lahej, Hodeidah, Addali’e, Abyan, Dhamar, and Shabwa. The report compiles a year’s worth of field research by YCMHR monitors. Now with this killing they would be further emboldened to carry out their plan of gaining sway over complete Yemen. Unless international intervention takes place immediately the situation in Yemen, already out of control, would end up in total chaos. Already the United Nations has called for a humanitarian pause in Sanaa between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to allow civilians to leave their homes, aid workers to reach them, and the wounded to get medical care, for it said the streets of Sanaa had become “battlegrounds” and that aid workers “remain in lockdown”.

The previous night, Saleh had officially announced the dissolution of his partnership with former Houthi militia allies. He had said in statements on Monday morning that, “Zero hour is coming to the battlefield in Sanaa... The country had to be saved from the madness of the Houthi group.” His words before being killed is ominous, for Yemen will have to unite in its efforts to blunt the Houthis charge and aspirations. Saleh’s death is definitely a turning point in Yemen’s history. But for now, it changes nothing for the millions of people suffering in the worst possible ways you could ever imagine across the country. Saleh’s dead but the war continues, and is far from over.


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