Counter-Terrorism: Iran Buys Chaos In Yemen

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August 24, 2009: In Yemen, troops fighting Shia rebels near the Saudi border, discovered stockpiles of Iranian weapons (machine-guns, rockets and ammunition). Iran has denied supporting these Shia tribes, and these weapons may have been obtained on the black market (which Iran is a major supplier to). But Iran benefits from this violence, which creates more disorder on the Arab side of the Persian Gulf.

The government launched an offensive against the Shia rebels two weeks ago. Several hundred have died in this battle, most of them Shia fighters. In the last five years, several thousand have died in this on-and-off war. The tribes are believed to be receiving cash from Iran, which is used to sustain families forced to flee their villages to avoid the fighting.

While Yemen is supposed to be the new headquarters of "Al Qaeda in Arabia" (Saudi Arabia no longer being safe for the terrorists), these Islamic terrorists are keeping their heads down, as Yemen drifts towards civil war. Groups in the south want to break away and form their own "Yemen." But so far, the government sees the Shia rebels in the north as the bigger threat.

The Shia Islamic militants of northern Yemen want to restore local Shia rule in the traditional tribal territories. This rule was shut down by the central government in 1962. The Shia of Yemen are not mainstream Shia, but a sect called the Zaydis. There are about a million of them 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 Shia radical 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 battles with the Shia tribesmen have been more intense in the last five years. Until last year, things had been quiet for two years. In 2005, nearly a thousand troops and tribesmen died, while in 2004 some 400 died. There have been several truces, but the al Houthi supporters keep breaking them. The rebels keep demanding more concessions from the government (which is a coalition of Shia and Sunni groups). What is ironic about all this is that the president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, is a Zaidi. But the rebels consider Saleh a traitor for dealing with the Sunni majority.

There are still many Yemenis who have a grudge against the government. Most of this can be traced back to the civil war that ended, sort of, in 1994. That war was caused by the fact that, when the British left Yemen in 1967, their former colony in Aden because one of two countries called Yemen. The two parts of Yemen finally united in 1990, but a civil war in 1994 was needed to seal the deal. That fix didn't really take, and the north and south are pulling apart again.

 

 


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