Yemen: The Shia Showdown Spoils Everything

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August 28, 2014: The government has ordered the Shia tribes to get their gunmen out of the capital. Thousands of these gunmen were allowed into the capital over a week ago as the government met with Shia leaders to finally deal with the Shia complaints and the growing aggressiveness of the Shia tribes. The Shia are a third of the population and they are angry. The government has been trying to avoid another civil war with them and has so far refused to use force to halt the Shia move into the capital. For the last two years most of the army has been down south defeating the separatist tribes and their Islamic terrorist allies.

The Shia had more demands than the government expected, including returning the fuel subsidies that the government can no longer afford and eliminated in July. That caused the price of gasoline to go up 60 percent and diesel 95 percent. The Shia also want the government to resign and an “independent” prime minister to be appointed. The Shia also want corruption eliminated. There is no agreement on who would be acceptable as an appointed prime minister and who exactly the “technocrats” the Shia demand to take key positions would be. The Shia have no practical plan to deal with the corruption, which has defied reform for a long time. The Shia also want the media to be impartial and fair, something else that is fine in theory but impossible in practice. Finally the Shia want more power and influence in the government. But so does every other group, which is a central problem in Yemen.

The formal peace talks with the Shia failed on the 24th and now the government fears major fighting in the capital. For the moment most of the action continues to be demonstrations by thousands of Shia as well as thousands of pro-government people (mostly Sunni). The Shia especially want to subdue the Sunni tribes in the north. The Sunni tribes in the north have been fighting the Shia tribes for generations. By 2013 the center of the violence was the siege of a Sunni town about 40 kilometers south of the Saudi border by Shia tribesmen. The town (Damaj) contains a Sunni religious school that has been there since the late 1970s but now had many foreign students. According to the Shia tribes the school was producing Sunni Islamic radicals who sought to kill Shia (as Sunni religious conservatives consider Shia heretics.)

The main Shia complaint is lost political power. The Shia tribes up north have been demanding more autonomy for decades, and the Sunni tribes up there oppose that for obvious reasons. The Shia violence has been getting worse since 2004 and escalated further when most Yemenis joined the Arab Spring movement in 2011 and removed a long-time government headed by a northern Shia. While the north has several entirely Shia tribes, Sunnis and Shia had lived together peacefully throughout Yemen for centuries and usually used the same mosques (some led by Shia clergy, most by Sunnis). That tradition is being attacked by Yemeni Sunnis who are using violence or threats of violence to drive Shia from mosques throughout the country. This is a widely unpopular move, but the Sunni Islamic radicals are on a Mission From God not a popularity contest. The Sunni radicals also accuse Yemeni Shia of being agents for Iran which is only true in a few instances. The Shia tribes renounce any Iranian connection because they are caught between a Sunni majority to the south and a Sunni (and very anti-Iran) Saudi Arabia to the north. Just across the border there are related Shia tribes in Saudi Arabia, who have long since learned to keep quiet and enjoy the slice of Saudi oil wealth they receive from the government. Moreover the Saudi Shia are a smaller fraction of the population and separated, not concentrated as the Yemeni Shia are.

A major Shia complaint was the early 2014 agreement changes the constitution and divides the country into six federal regions. The Shia wanted this but complain that their region is too small and isolated (from the sea). They believe that was done on purpose because the rebellious Shia tribes have received arms shipments from Iran via the sea. Now the coast there is heavily patrolled, by Yemenis and Saudis. The Shia tribes are also hostile to the proposed new federal form of government because they believe this would mean a smaller cut of government income for the Shia.

Meanwhile the economy continues to fall apart, largely because all the Shia violence in the north and separatist and Islamic terrorist violence in the south. Over half the population lives in poverty and mass starvation is only avoided because of foreign food aid. This is endangered by the violence, as warlords and gangsters seek to steal the food and sell it.

August 27, 2014: Turkey has warned its citizens to get out of Yemen because of the growing political and religious violence there.

August 23, 2014: In the south (Aden) an army general was killed by a roadside bomb and his son was wounded. Meanwhile in the southwest (Hadramout province) Islamic terrorists ambushed a patrol with a roadside bomb and gunfire, killing three soldiers and wounding six others. In the capital over 10,000 Shia demonstrated in an effort to get the government to give in to all their demands.

August 20, 2014: Thousands more armed Shia entered the capital to join even more unarmed Shia and guard the camps where the Shia are staying while they demonstrate daily to influence the peace talks with the government.

August 19, 2014: In the capital a local tribal leader (Abdulkareem Al Dhahab) was assassinated and several of his bodyguards wounded. His tribe is split with some factions supporting al Qaeda while others oppose Islamic terrorists. The ten major Western and Arab aid donor nations to Yemen warned the Shia not to threaten civil war if their demands are not met. Even if the Shia win such a conflict, the aid nations will not support them.

August 17, 2014: In the southwest (Hadramout province) Islamic terrorists cornered in a house by soldiers called for help from other terrorists nearby. This led to a four hour battle that left three soldiers and six terrorists dead.

August 16, 2014: In the south (Abyan province) seven Islamic terrorists were killed in two air attacks. It’s unclear if the attacks were carried out by American UAVs or Yemeni warplanes.

August 14, 2014: In the southwest (Hadramout province) soldiers foiled an Islamic terrorist effort to make a major attack on the provincial capital. Three car bombs were found and destroyed before they could reach their targets. Two Islamic terrorists were killed and many more appear to have fled the city. Three soldiers were killed.

Responding to the recent ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and Syria) setbacks AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula), based in Yemen, has declared that it will assist ISIL in launching revenge terrorist attacks in the West. This is mostly boasting and empty threats. AQAP does have a terrorist infrastructure that has made several attempted attacks on the West. While nearly all of them failed, several came close to succeeding. ISIL also has a lot of (mostly young) supporters in the West and not all of them are Moslem immigrants. ISIL is the radical chic flavor of the moment. While AQAP is under heavy attack in Yemen it still manages to function but not as effectively as in the past.

Former president Ali Abdullah Saleh avoided assassination when his security personnel received a tip leading to the discovery a tunnel being dug under his compound. Five people were arrested and it was found that the tunnel digging had been going on since April. The killers planned to use a large bomb to kill Saleh, who still had a lot of enemies.

August 13, 2014: In the south (Lahej province) soldiers discovered and were trying to disarm a roadside bomb when it went off, killing nine people and wounding 14, most of them civilians who had gathered to watch. In the northeast (Al Jouf province) fifteen died in fighting between Shia and Sunni tribesmen.

August 11, 2014:  The UAE (United Arab Emirates) warned its citizens to stay away from Somalia (as well as Afghanistan and South Sudan) due to security concerns. Earlier the government had warned its citizens to stay away from Yemen, Pakistan, Syria, Lebanon, Nigeria, Ukraine, Thailand, Iraq and Libya for the same reasons.

August 10, 2014: In the north fighting broke out again between Shia and Sunni tribesmen, despite a ceasefire. Thousands of civilians fled the area to avoid all the shooting.

 

 

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