Iran in Yemen

Bilal Ahmed,

Although a few months old the issues raised here are still relevant (ME4change).

The Saudi-led invasion of Yemen has opened new discussions on the Houthis, an alliance of tribal militants that are based in Sa’ada. Mainstream analysts have begun to insist that the group is nothing more than an Iranian proxy, which demands closer scrutiny. It is clear that American operatives in Yemen were themselves skeptical of this characterization until quite recently.

Anti-gun mural

The Houthis are not a “proxy,” and certainly didn’t start that way. It is widely believed that Ali Abdullah Saleh felt threatened by the broad religious and tribal support that charismatic leader Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi commanded in them both. He was particularly disturbed by fierce demonstrations at the Great Mosque of Sana’a on June 18, 2004. The Houthis’ predecessor organization, the Believing Youth, had organized the protests in reaction to Israeli crackdowns during the Al-Aqsa Intifada, and the US-led invasion of Iraq.

Yemeni forces responded by killing large numbers of al-Houthi’s followers, offering a bounty for his capture, and launching major combat operations in northern Yemen. Saleh was concerned that al-Houthi was preparing to lead a tribal revolution, and situate himself as a new Zaidi Imam. Al-Houthi was killed by September, and Saleh went as far as to prevent him from being buried in Sa’ada, in case his grave became a shrine. His strategy completely backfired when al-Houthi’s supporters reorganized themselves around his brothers, particularly the relatively young Abdul Malik al-Houthi, and changed their name to “the Houthis.”

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