Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Yemen, a Shaky US Ally against Al Qaeda, Is Cracking Apart

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Yemen, a Shaky US Ally against Al Qaeda, Is Cracking Apart

Article excerpt

Nearly three years after Yemen ousted a decades-old dictatorship and began a political transition aimed at preventing civil war, the fragile nation is once again on the brink of disaster.

Fighting between Iran-backed Houthi rebels who control the capital, Sanaa, and Al-Qaeda-linked militants appears to be intensifying. In recent days, bombings and gun battles between the two groups and their allies have reportedly killed dozens in central Yemen. And the country's political leadership is in tatters.

Under President Obama, the US has strengthened security ties to Yemen in order to go after Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is seen as posing a threat to the US homeland. This includes US drone strikes, which have been stepped up since Houthi rebels stormed the capital in September and asserted control.

On Sunday a new largely technocratic coalition government was sworn in, bringing on board Houthis as well as representatives of the southern separatist Herak group. However, both the ruling party and the Houthi leadership object to the representation allocated to the opposition Al-Islah party, one of the main losers in the latest political upheaval.

One man widely blamed for the current crisis former president, Ali Abdallah Saleh, who stepped down in November 2011 under a deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council. The US accuses Mr Saleh of undermining the central government. On Monday, the US government blacklisted him, along with two Houthi rebel commanders, for threatening the country's peace and stability.

In 2013, after keeping a relatively low profile, Saleh reached out to his arch nemesis the Houthis, a powerful clan in the north that, like Saleh, belongs to the Zaidi sect. Thanks in part to the former president's tribal allies and military connections, the Houthis were able to march from their heartland into the capital, overcoming pockets of resistance from Salafist and Al Qaeda linked fighters.

Today the banner "God is Great, Death to America, Death to Israel" adorns Houthi-manned checkpoints in Sanaa and the houses of their supporters. Analysts say the US drone campaign against AQAP has fed anti-US sentiment and indirectly bolstered the Houthis. …

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