Yemen: Shia Rebels Crush The Competition


November 4, 2014: As the Shia rebels move south from the capital they encounter armed resistance, but not enough to stop them. In the last two weeks there have been over a thousand casualties in this fighting and the Shia rebels are winning. The objective appears to be the port of Aden. This city is full of Sunni separatists who appear more into demonstrations than armed resistance. In Aden, long the center of independent southern Yemen, separatist demonstrators have been in the streets for over two weeks, but the Shia dominated government soldiers and police still control the city.

The security forces also continue to go after Islamic terrorists and separatist tribesmen while cooperating with Shia rebels advancing south. AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) continues to make attacks, usually assassinations of soldiers and police, especially commanders as well as against Shia gunmen. There have been fewer bombings and more attempts by large groups of AQAP gunmen to seize control of towns and cities. These have failed, but AQAP keeps trying, apparently hoping to grab places with demoralized security forces who will flee rather than fight.

The U.S. and the Sunni Arab Gulf States (particularly Saudi Arabia) see the changes in Yemen as an Iranian ploy to gain greater influence, if not control, in Yemen. This is being done with the help of deposed (in 2012) president Saleh who obtained immunity from prosecution (for past crimes) in return for leaving peacefully. But Saleh still had many allies, including many in the security forces. A purge of the security forces did not change this as much as the new government thought. Saleh is keeping his head down as the Shia rebels take over, but his influence is difficult to ignore. On the plus side the current (nominally Sunni dominated) government and the Shia rebels agree on the need to destroy AQAP and the Islamic terrorists are losing ground as the Shia forces move south. But once the Shia take Aden, they will have a more difficult time in western Yemen, which is largely desert, Sunni and thinly populated. Lots of hiding places and a difficult area to control, for anyone.

Iran has not actively intervened in Yemen and the Sunni Arab states that border Yemen are not willing to invade to thwart the Shia rebels. This is because it’s not just Iran and the Shia rebels who are the problem but all the factions there. The Shia are only a third of the population but they are united while the Sunni majority is split into numerous factions. If any neighboring country invaded the Yemenis would unite to oppose this. This factionalism has long been a serious problem in Yemen and the Shia rebels attract some Sunni support by demanding a less corrupt and more competent government. That is something most Yemenis can agree on. Yet if the Shia end up dominating this new government, the neighbors are nervous about increased Iranian influence and that might get ugly.

November 3, 2014: In the west (Jabal Ras) Shia rebels entered the Red Sea port city of Hudeida (224 kilometers west of the capital) and took control. The AQAP men there had withdrawn over the weekend.

November 2, 2014: In the capital assassins killed the head of the Union of Popular Forces party. This was one of the more liberal major parties. No one took credit for the murder.

In the west (Jabal Ras) AQAP gunmen and soldiers continued to fight.

November 1, 2014:  In the capital all parties agreed on a new cabinet with “apolitical technocrat” ministers. The Shia insisted on this and the UN mediators involved went along. The Shia rebels promised to pull their forces out of the capital (and all other Sunni areas they have conquered lately) once the new government is in place. The rebels have told the president and prime minister they have ten days to form the new government with ministers acceptable to the Shia and other major parties. Such a dream team (acceptable to all major factions) may not be possible. It’s that damn factionalism again.

In the west (Jabal Ras) AQAP gunmen attacked the Red Sea port city of Hudeida, killed 19 policemen, and soldiers, took some soldiers hostage  and tool control of the port.

October 31, 2014: The United States made it clear that it believes the Shia rebels are acting in cooperation with former dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh and Saleh allies in the security forces. The U.S. believes that Saleh, who is a Shia from the north, made a secret deal with the Shia rebels after being forced out in 2012. Since then the Shia rebels have been able to take control of the north, then the capital and are forcing the rest of the country to submit to the new Shia controlled government. The U.S. wants the UN to impose travel and financial sanctions on Saleh and two of the Shia rebel leaders. The U.S. also claims that in September Shia rebels planned to attack the American embassy in Yemen. The UN did impose sanctions on any group that opposed the formation of a new government in Yemen but refused to impose sanctions on individuals.

October 29, 2014: In the south Shia rebels took control of Radmah, a city half way between the capital and the southern port of Aden. Local Sunni tribesmen fought the Shia for 24 hours, were defeated and retreated. With this the Shia control nearly all of Ibb province. Radmah was also a stronghold for the Sunni Moslem Brotherhood party, but that did not prevent the Shia takeover. In neighboring Bayda province the Shia rebels are still fighting the local Sunni tribesmen and their AQAP allies.

October 28, 2014: In the south (Ibb province) advancing Shia rebels encountered resistance from local Sunni tribesmen. There were over 30 casualties. The Shia had some artillery with them, operated by soldiers, which they used. Local army units appeared to be cooperating with the Shia rebels. Over the last three days over 250 have died as Shia rebels fought local Sunnis for control of Ibb and Bayda provinces. In the ten days before that fewer than a hundred died in the fighting down south. The tribes are assisted by AQAP, which has made some suicide bombing attacks on Shia gunmen.

October 27, 2014: In the south (Bayda province) Shia rebels pushed back local Sunni tribesmen with the help of army artillery and rocket fire.

October 25, 2014: The oil pipeline to the coast resumed operations, a day after Sunni tribesmen once more bombed it. The last attack was on October 16th and that one took two days to repair.

The government handed over control of the oil ministry to the Shia rebels along with five other ministries. This effort to form a new government failed when not all major parties would agree to how the ministries were divided up among them. 

October 24, 2014: In the southeast (Radda 130 kilometers from the capital) an American UAV fired missiles at two vehicles carrying AQAP men, killing at least a dozen of them.

October 19, 2014: Outside the capital Shia rebels dismantled a protestor camp that had been blocking the road to the airport for weeks.

Iran has offered to provide security advice to the new Shia dominated government.





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