Yemen Civil War – Explained

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Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the Arab world, is currently facing a devastating civil war that has caused thousands of deaths and has displaced millions within its territory.

According to the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the “severity of needs” is worsening. The situation in Yemen is worse than last year when it was already the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

Now, the diplomatic tensions between Saudi Arabia and the UAE have worsened the situation in Yemen. The UAE was accused of funding separatists in Yemen. The UAE government denied these allegations.

However, with the Saudi-led led coalition fighting amongst each other and the separatists taking control of many key provinces in Yemen, the conflict is getting worse than ever.

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About Yemen

  • Yemen is a country located at the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula in Western Asia.
  • It shares a boundary with Saudi Arabia in the north, has the Red Sea to the west, the Gulf of Aden and Guardafui Channel to the south and the Arabian Sea and Oman in the East.
  • It is the member of UN, Non-Aligned Movement, Arab League and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
  • Yemen houses about 200 islands that include the largest island in the Middle East, Socotra.
  • Currently, Yemen is facing crisis due to the on-going civil war between two factions: the Yemeni government led by Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi and the Houthi armed movement and allies.

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Why is there a war?

  • Yemen was previously under the authoritarian regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
  • As the result of the Arab Spring, a series of protests and armed rebellions that spread across North Africa and the Middle East in the early 2010s, Yemen underwent a political transition.
  • In 2011, president Saleh’s was forced to hand over the power to his deputy Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.
  • President Hadi, during the initial stages of his regime, faced several problems like:
  1. Terrorism
  2. The separatist movement in south Yemen
  3. Corruption
  4. Unemployment
  5. Scarcity of food
  6. Military’s loyalty to President Saleh
  • However, President Hadi was not able to solve these problems efficiently.
  • The Houthi movement officially called the Ansar Allah (Supporters of God) is an Islamic, religious-political Armed Movement that originated in Northern Yemen in the 1990s.
  • This movement, which champions Yemen’s Zaidi – a Shia Muslim minority, took advantage of President Hadi’s weakness and annexed the northern Saada province and the neighbouring regions in 2014.
  • The Houthis further took control of Sana’a, the capital of Yemen.
  • This forced President Hadi into exile.
  • This conflict escalated when Saudi Arabia along with other Sunni Arab countries began airstrike against the Houthis in March 2015.
  • These countries were backed by the US, UK, and France.
  • These countries justified this move by stating that they are aiming to restore Mr.Hadi’s government.

Who is fighting against whom?

  • Multiple factions are involved in this war.
  • These factions can be categorized into two main groups: the pro-government forces and the anti-government forces.
  • The pro-government forces are headed by President Hadi while the anti-government was backed by Saleh.
  • The Houthis, the anti-government force, operate from northern Yemen. They currently control the key central provinces of southern Yemen.
  • The Hadi government accuses Iran of backing the Houthis by providing military and logistics support.
  • Iran denies this allegation.
  • Currently, the Hadi government is facing its own internal problems as President Hadi’s former security advisor Aidarous al-Zubaidi and former cabinet member Hani Bin Braik are supporting the secessionist movement that is backed by the Emirates.

Why is Saudi Arabia involved?

  • To Saudi Arabia, Houthis’ success in the on-going Yemen war is a liability.
  • This is because the Houthis are backed by its regional rival, Iran.
  • Saudi Arabia and UAE have conducted airstrike against the Houthis in the Yemen territory.
  • Other Arab countries like Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Sudan, Morocco, Egypt, and Jordan have backed this move.
  • The US and UK have provided Saudi Arabia with the military, logistic and intelligence support.

What is the current status of the war?

  • Yemen War is lasting for more than three years.
  • On August 2015, the coalition has successfully driven out the Houthis out of much of south Yemen in the initial few months.
  • President Hadi’s temporary government was established in Aden but it still struggles to provide basic necessities like food for the Yemen citizens.
  • Houthis still has control over Sana’a and the city of Taiz.
  • They were able to fire missiles at Saudi Arabia which led to the tightening the blockade around Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition in November 2017.
  • This blockade substantially increased the prices of food and fuel in Yemen which in turn led to food insecurity for the Yemenis.
  • In June 2018, the coalition planned on gaining a strategic advantage by attacking the rebel-held city of Hudaydah.
  • The city of Hudaydah is strategically significant because its port is the lifeline to two-third of Yemen’s population.
  • UN opposed this move and called for diplomatic dialogue between the warring parties.
  • In December, both Saudi Arabia and the Houthi representatives agreed to a ceasefire in the port city of Hudaydah and redeploy their forces in mid-January.
  • However, none of the parties have withdrawn.
  • Terrorist groups have taken advantage of the situation and have seized the southern territories of Yemen.
  • They are now indulging in terror attacks in Yemen.

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What are the consequences of this war?

  • Yemen is currently facing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
  • According to the UN, at least 7, 025 civilians have died due to the Yemen war since 2015. Of these, 65 % of deaths were caused by the Saudi-led coalition.
  • About 20 million people are in need of food. Almost 240, 000 people are facing “catastrophic levels of hunger”.
  • Approximately, 20 million people don’t have access to healthcare and 18 million people don’t have access to clean water and sanitation.
  • As a consequence, Yemen was faced with the largest cholera outbreak ever recorded.
  • The cholera outbreak resulted in more than 1.49 million suspected cases and 2,960 deaths since April 2017.

Why should this war matter to the rest of the world?

  • Breeding ground for terrorism: The Yemen war has encouraged various terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and IS to operate in Yemen. If this conflict continues, the terrorists may expand their influence abroad.
  • Strategic significance of Yemen: It is located near a strait that connects the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden. A large amount of oil trade is dependent on this route.

Way Forward

  • Despite three years of war, the Saudi-led coalition has failed to achieve its objective and the anti-government factions still hold most of the strategically significant places in Yemen.
  • It is evident that the military campaign is not solving the current problems in Yemen.
  • It is essential for the international community to take viable measures to solve the problem to prevent further escalation of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

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