Yemen is in danger of falling apart. The Shia rebels have been in the capital since last September but the recently elected government of former general Hadi was unable to get enough of its many political and tribal factions to agree to a peace deal that would satisfy the Shia (who wanted more autonomy for the Shia north and less corruption in government). This led to the elected president Hadi resigning on January 22nd. That was followed by Shia gunmen arresting some members of the cabinet and taking over government buildings in the capital (as they had already done in several provinces as their forces advanced south in the last six months.) While the Shia control some provinces in the south and west, the major port of Aden has been operating autonomously for over a month and provinces in the east are still free of Shia control. Now the Shia are negotiating with many Sunni factions to form a temporary government until new elections can be held.
As the Shia rebels seized control of the Yemeni government Saudi Arabia and the other members of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council, the Arab oil states in the Persian Gulf) remain reluctant to intervene militarily. The GCC agrees that Yemen cannot be allowed to disintegrate or become dominated by the Shia minority. For one thing that would provide Iran with another ally (via the Shia tribes of the north). At the moment the GCC is trying to determine exactly what is going on with the Yemeni Army and the many powerful tribes. It is unclear if the military and the Sunni tribes still will resist growing Shia power. Yemen needs a new coalition to run the country because the one that existed until September ceased to function long before Hadi resigned in January. Once the Shia rebels occupied the capital in late 2014 and then a growing number of cities and provinces to the south it was obvious the Shia would have a lot to say about the next government.
Iran officially has nothing to do with all this, but Arabs know that the “victory” in Yemen is being celebrated in the streets of Iran (at least in conversation) and increasingly in Iranian media as well. This is humiliating for the GCC members and Sunnis in general. Iran has not directly intervened (but is suspected of supplying the Yemen Shia with cash and advice). The best Sunni hope for military intervention is the Saudis, but that’s not the Saudi style. The Saudis don’t want to see their armed forces tied down in Yemen, not when Iran remains a major, and growing, threat. Then there is the ISIL threat in Syria and Iraq (and, to a lesser extent, inside Saudi Arabia itself). There is no easy way out of this mess for anyone. The customary way these things are settled in Arabia is by making deals. The Shia have interfered with that by coming down on the rampant corruption. Many Arabs, especially Sunni, see corruption as the lubricant that makes governments, and the maintenance of law and order in heavily armed and short-tempered Arabia possible. Shia see the corruption being used against them and also the major reason why the economy is crippled and the government is so ineffective. The Shia are on the right side of history when it comes to corruption. The West would not be so advanced (economically, militarily and so on) were it not for their success in dealing with corruption. Yet the Yemeni Shia also feel an affinity for Iran, considered the “leader” of the Shia world. Iran is also mired in corruption as well as disagreements over the value of letting clerical rule continue. The Iranian clerics don’t actually run Iran, but they have the final say and their own private army of fanatics (the Revolutionary Guard) to enforce their will. Most Yemeni Shia don’t want that, but they are willing to accept aid from Iran and work to make Sunni majority Yemen a “friend“ of Iran (much like the Shia minority has done in Lebanon and Syria). The Saudis and GCC are very hostile to this sort of thing but reluctant to go to war over it.
The U.S. UAV effort against AQAP continues, apparently with the help of the Shia rebels and some Yemeni military units and tribal leaders. The Americans show no sign of pulling out of Yemen even though the risk of AQAP killing or capturing some of their personnel increases. U.S. intelligence personnel inside Yemen report that while the Sunni majority opposes a Shia dominated government most tribal leaders are more willing to make deals with the Shia (who are at least Yemeni) than AQAP (which is seen as dominated by foreigners and not looking out for the best interests of Yemen).
February 13, 2015: In the capital Saudi Arabia, Italy and Germany closed their embassies. This follows the recent closing of embassies by the United States, France and Britain.
In the south (Baida province) a suicide car bomb went off outside a police headquarters occupied by Shia rebels. That and several other clashes between Shia and Sunni gunmen left at least 26 dead in the province. Elsewhere in the south (Shabwa province) gunmen attacked a prison and released six inmates.
In the east the governor of Marib province warned the Shia to stay out of Marib. Shia forces have been massing on the borders of Marib for months but have not advanced because Marib is where the oil and natural gas fields are and the local Sunni tribes have also assembled a large force of gunmen to defend or destroy those valuable oil and gas facilities. Worse yet tribal leaders say that if the Shia enter Marib this will mean the shutdown of energy supplies to key power plants that keep the lights on in most of the country. In January tribal leaders called for up to thirty thousand armed tribesmen to gather in Marib to fight the Shia rebels. This buildup was not completed as the Shia rebels quietly agreed to maintain the November peace deal. Back then three of the most powerful tribes in Marib province united and worked out a peace deal with the approaching Shia rebels. In essence the deal guaranteed the safety of Shia in Marib and in return the Shia rebels would not try to enter Marib and take over. The three tribes in Marib are powerful and have a reputation for being determined fighters. The Shia rebels are still nearby but are less likely to advance now that Marib is the assembly point for anti-Shia tribesmen. To further complicate matters tribal leaders in what is locally known as the “Sheba region” (Marib, Baida and Jawf provinces) have apparently united, despite the many feuds and disagreements among them. The Shia are seen as a common threat.
In the capital the UAE closed its embassy.
February 12, 2015: In the south (Shabwa province) AQAP gunmen attacked an army base. The soldiers resisted and 12 were killed, 20 wounded and 15 captured by the attackers who suffered at least 15 dead. The AQAP men agreed to release the captive soldiers in return for safe passage out of the base, with several truckloads of weapons and ammo. These were seen headed for nearby Marib province where AQAP is known to have bases.
In the capital the Netherlands closed its embassy.
February 11, 2015: In the capital Shia rebels seized at least twenty vehicles from the recently evacuated U.S. embassy compound. This happened hours after the last embassy personnel left. Elsewhere in the capital and at least one other city occupied by the Shia where were large (thousands of people) demonstrations against the Shia rebels (who did not use lethal force to disperse the crowds).
February 10, 2015: In the south (Hadramout province) four Islamic terrorists were killed by missiles from an American UAV. This is the fourth such attack in the last 15 days. These four attacks have left at least a dozen Islamic terrorists and at least one civilian (a 12 year old boy travelling with one of the Islamic terrorists) dead.
February 7, 2015: In the capital a bomb went off outside the presidential compound, wounding two people.
The GCC declared that what the Shia rebels were doing in Yemen was a coup and illegal.
February 6, 2015: In the capital the Shia rebels dissolved parliament and announced the establishment of a Presidential Council of five officials who would help establish a National Council of 551 members from all over the country. These two councils would run the country in the absence of the elected president and legislature. The councils would rule for up to two years until new elections could be held.
February 5, 2015: In the capital negotiations between Shia rebels and leaders of most non-Shia political factions agreed to run the country via a Presidential Council until elections could be organized.
In the south (Aden) soldiers defeated an effort by Islamic terrorists to take control of a base. Five soldiers and at least three Islamic terrorists were killed.
In the south (Baida province) a suicide car bomb went off outside an army base killing five soldiers.
AQAP revealed that one of its senior leaders had been killed by an American missile on January 31st. AQAP also took credit for the Islamic terror attack in France on January 7th that left 17 dead.
February 3, 2015: In the south (Ibb province) AQAP gunmen killed a prominent local lawyer who supported the Shia rebels. AQAP has boasted of making over 200 attacks (assassinations, bombings and so on) since last October. Elsewhere the south (Shabwa province) AQAP ambushed an army convoy and killed two soldiers.
February 1, 2015: In the south (Ibb province) AQAP gunmen killed a Shia rebel commander. This was one of at least four AQAP attacks in the last four days that have left at least ten dead.
January 31, 2015: In the capital thousands of Sunni civilians demonstrated against the Shia rebels. The crowds were dispersed, as were smaller crowds in several other cities. Some of the Sunnis blamed the UN for not stopping the Shia. Since the Shia rebels took control of the national government in the capital on the 22nd there have been increased attacks in the south by AQAP assassins, suicide bombers and occasional ambushes. AQAP has also been fighting some soldiers who continue to assert authority without declaring whose side they are on.
January 26, 2015: In the capital the U.S. embassy shut down public access to the embassy compound by Yemenis.
January 25, 2015: In Iran a senior military official openly described what the Yemeni Shia rebels are doing as similar to what the Shia Hezbollah militia (founded and funded with Iranian cash and weapons) are doing in Lebanon.
January 22, 2015: President Hadi resigned, under pressure from Shia rebels.