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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 1 New Delhi December 26, 2015

Yemen Fighting Causing Disaster

Saturday 26 December 2015, by Harish Chandola

A bigger tragedy than that of Syria is taking place in the small, poor Middle-East country of Yemen, which is being constantly bombed by a coalition of nine countries led by Saudi Arabia, fighting on behalf of Yemen’s deposed govern-ment. Over 6000 civilians have been killed in the bombing and its people are now fleeing to Somalia, across the Gulf of Aden. From across the Red Sea are arriving fierce Sudanese soldiers to fight the Yemenis. The devastated country is facing starvation because its ports have been blocked by a coalition of Gulf countries involved in the bombing.

Of late soldiers from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are also involved in fighting there against the Shi’a Houthi people and their supporters, the Iranian volunteers. The fighting in the south of the country is moving north, where the Houthis, backed by forces loyal to Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s former President, still control most of the territory, including the capital, Sana’a, which is under constant bombardment.

Various elements are involved in the fighting there. The Islamic State (IS), operating in Yemen’s ungoverned spaces, have attacked the strategic port city of Aden and the United Arab Emirate’s command post and a hotel housing Yemeni politicians. Services have broken down in Aden with sewage splling everywhere. The Al-Qaeda, in control of the eastern city of Mukalla, imposing their radical brand of Islam on the people in their push to the west, are moving towards Aden, a region where people are armed to the teeth. The exiled Government of Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, made a show of returning in September, but quickly went back to Saudi Arabia, unable to make progress.

Yemen was formally divided after independence until 1990. The flag of old South Yemen is now seen in Aden. Southerners have been complaining of unfair treatment by the north, which they say had been denying them jobs and plundering the region. Thousands held a demonstration in Aden against the north on October 14.

Discord has emerged in the Gulf coalition against Yemen. The United Arab Emirates, which dislikes Islamism, scorns Islah, Yemen’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, a source of resistance fighters. Saudi Arabia supports Islah and also provides financial backing to the ultra-conser-vatist Salafist. It hosts Hadi, the internatio-nally recognised President, who is opposed at home.

Hadi and the Houthis have agreed to take part in a new round of talks sponsored by the UN. The peace prospects are however dim. The Houthis have besieged Taiz, Yemen’s cultural capital, and have threatened to step up their attacks on Saudi Arabia. The Gulf coalition against them appears to be preparing for a ground attack on heavily populated Sana’a. The situation is getting worse as the fighting progresses.

The author is a veteran journalist who has written extensively on West and Central Asian developments. He also covered the 1962 Yemen war.