Potential Hot Spots: The Shia Zealots of Yemen Die For The Cause


: Items About Areas That Could Break Out Into War

April 11, 2007: After a flare up in February, that left at least fifty dead, things were quiet for a while. But now the government has basically declared war on the rebellious Shia tribes in northern Yemen. In the last week, another fifty soldiers and tribesmen have died. So far this year, the fighting has left nearly 500 dead (a third of those the better equipped soldiers, the rest tribesmen.) About 10,000 people have fled the violence, adding to the refugee burden. There are already over 100,000 Somalis living in refugee camps. These are people who paid smugglers to get them out of Somalia, but found themselves dumped in Yemen, and unable to proceed any further.

While Yemen is the original home of the bin Laden family, and harbors many al Qaeda fans, it also has a religious conflict with radical Shia tribes. There are also pro-al Qaeda Sunni Yemeni groups, which are much less of a problem. The Shia problem is mainly in the form of an ongoing insurrection by followers of Shia religious leader Hussein al Houthi.

A year ago, soldiers and Shia tribesmen fought a battle near the Saudi border. The fighting was over control of a fortified compound, and left five soldiers and fifteen tribesmen dead. The Shia fighters were followers of Houthi. Several weeks of skirmishing, that caused over a hundred casualties, led up to this. The battles with the Shia tribesmen have been going on for years, but has been more intense in the last three years. Last year, things were relatively quiet, but in 2005, nearly a thousand troops and tribesmen died, while in 2004 some 400 died. There is supposed to be a truce, but the al Houthi supporters broke it two years ago, as a new leader of the group sought to get concessions from the government (which is a coalition of Shia and Sunni groups).

The Shia of Yemen are not mainstream Shia, but a sect called the Zaydis. There are about a million of these Shia 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 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 Yemeni Shia are believed to receive support from Iran and Libya, but everyone denies it, which is the usual drill.


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