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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Yemen: Another sectarian war?

As set out here, an effort to quell an movement to install an "Iranian-style" government in Yemen:
In Saada province, 240 kilometers north of the capital Sana'a, nearly 700 people have been killed as fighting reignited in late January between the Yemeni army and a Zaidi Shi'ite insurgent group called Al Shabab Al Moumin (the Youthful Believers) - formed by now-deceased tribal chief Hussein Badr al-Din al-Houthi - after the rebels threatened to kill members of a small Jewish community in Saada if they did not leave the country within 10 days.
The current conflict represents the third government crackdown since 2004 in Saada province, where the anti-government Shi'ite insurgency started out as a small domestic protest against Yemeni policy. Rebel clerics have denounced the government's ties with the United States and demanded an end to its gradual shift to Western-style social and democratic reforms.
The Hezbollah-style rebel group was formed three years ago by Shi'ite cleric Hussein Badr al-Din al-Houthi, who was killed in September 2004 while fighting under the slogan: "God the Greatest ... Death to America and Israel ...Victory for Islam and Muslims."

The government is determined to crush the uprising. But many observers worry that it may not be wholly able to overcome Houthi's group, which aims to install an Iranian-style Islamic theocracy.

"They refused all offers by the government to disarm and form a political party to live in peace," said Abdullah al-Faqih, a professor at Sana'a University. "I think the rebels have this time lost all grounds for negotiations with the government."
Military sources say Houthi's three-year fight against the government has cost the country an estimated US$800 million, with extensive damage to property.

The government, however, faces other unresolved problems in that many extreme religious groups refuse to operate within a democratic system that they see as invalid, explained Haidar: "Al-Houthi's group was trying to copy Iraq's sectarian strife in Yemen."

Sunni Muslims are a majority in Yemen, a nation of 19 million. It is the ancestral homeland of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. However, Houthi and his supporters are not linked to al-Qaeda.
As always, Jane at Armies of Liberation has more on Yemen on an on-going basis.

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