Items About Areas That Could Break Out Into War
April 11, 2007: After a flare
up in February, that left at least fifty dead, things were quiet for a while.
But now the government has basically declared war on the rebellious Shia tribes
in northern Yemen. In the last week, another fifty soldiers and tribesmen have
died. So far this year, the fighting has left nearly 500 dead (a third of those
the better equipped soldiers, the rest tribesmen.) About 10,000 people have
fled the violence, adding to the refugee burden. There are already over 100,000
Somalis living in refugee camps. These are people who paid smugglers to get
them out of Somalia, but found themselves dumped in Yemen, and unable to
proceed any further.
While Yemen is the
original home of the bin Laden family, and harbors many al Qaeda fans, it also
has a religious conflict with radical Shia tribes. There are also pro-al Qaeda Sunni Yemeni groups, which are
much less of a problem. The Shia problem is mainly in the form of an ongoing insurrection by followers of Shia
religious leader Hussein al Houthi.
A year ago, soldiers and
Shia tribesmen fought a battle near the Saudi border. The fighting was over
control of a fortified compound, and left five soldiers and fifteen tribesmen
dead. The Shia fighters were followers of Houthi. Several weeks of skirmishing,
that caused over a hundred casualties, led up to this. The battles with the
Shia tribesmen have been going on for years, but has been more intense in the
last three years. Last year, things were relatively quiet, but in 2005, nearly
a thousand troops and tribesmen died, while in 2004 some 400 died. There is
supposed to be a truce, but the al Houthi supporters broke it two years ago, as
a new leader of the group sought to get concessions from the government (which
is a coalition of Shia and Sunni groups).
The Shia of Yemen are not
mainstream Shia, but a sect called the Zaydis. There are about a million of
these Shia in Yemen, and they dominate the northern part of the country.
Overall, about fifteen percent of the 19 million people in Yemen, are Shia. The
rest are mainstream Sunni. In nearby Saudi Arabia, Shia are considered
heretics. The bin Laden family are Sunnis from Yemen, and Osama bin Laden's al
Qaeda has been brutal in its persecution of Shias. Ironically, the Sunni
dominated government of Yemen is quite pro-American, while the Shia,
particularly the several hundred thousand followers of al Houthi, are very
anti-American. While al Qaeda are present in Yemen, rebellious Shia like the al
Houthi crowd, are considered a much bigger domestic problem. The Yemeni Shia are
believed to receive support from Iran and Libya, but everyone denies it, which
is the usual drill.