"Yemeni Shi'ite Muslim Houthi fighters backed by government forces drove the local wing of al Qaeda from one of its last strongholds in central Yemen on Friday in intense fighting that killed at least 35 people, tribal sources said.
The Houthis' Ansarullah movement has become the main political force in Western-allied Yemen since capturing Sanaa in September and then pushing south and west into the Sunni Muslim heartland of al-Bayda province, where Ansar al-Sharia has allied itself with local tribes.
Yemen has been in turmoil since 2011, to the dismay of neighboring Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, and of the Western powers who want to prevent instability in the Arabian peninsula threatening their crude supplies or giving al Qaeda a base for overseas attacks.
Tribal sources said the Houthis had met stiff resistance as they pushed towards the village of Khobza district using Katuysha rockets and heavy artillery.
They said at least 25 Houthis and 10 Ansar al-Sharia and tribal fighters had died in the fighting, which began on Thursday afternoon. Ansar al-Sharia and its allies withdrew to Yakla district, on the border with Maarib province." Reuters
Full disclosure - I was once DEFATT in Yemen at Sanaa.
A primer on some aspects of Yemen:
- Zeidi (fiver) Shia Muslims are so conservative (restrained) religiously that they are sometimes thought of as a fifth Sunni mathab. Their theology and general view of the religious sciences follow the mu'tazilite tradition. They are quite distinct from and have little allegiance to the 12er Shia in Iran, Lebanon and other scattered places.
- From a few miles south of Sanaa to the northern reaches of the country where it "borders" Saudi Arabia the country is almost altogether Zeidi Shia in population. Those people are tough little mountaineers, who are extremely tribal in their lives and who are generally aligned in two major tribal confederations, the Baqil and the Hashid. These tribal confederations are the real power in Yemen north of Sanaa. they possess a lot of military equipment that was mainly stolen from the government when officers who are members of these confederations defected back to their true allegiance taking their gear and often soldiers with them.
- The former president, Ali Abdullah Salih, is a Zeidi tribesman of the Sanhan minor tribe of the Hashid confederation.
- From Sanaa south, Yemen is primarily inhabited by much less tribal villagers who are Sunni and usually of the shafa'i mathab. These folks are the recruiting ground for AQAP, Ansar al-Sharia and similar Sunni salafi jihadi groups for whom the Zaidi tribesmen of the north are just another kind of murtadoon (heretics) to be fought to the death.
- Further complicating the mozaic of groups that is Yemen is the lingering effect of British possession of the Aden crown colony for many years. In the course of that period a lot of Yemenis from Aden attended such schools as the London School of Economics where they became both atheistical and left wing politically. Such people are still on the scene in the cities and continue to be active in the government of a united Yemen.
- The Houthis are a Zeidi Shia reformist movement that draws solely on the Zeidi population of the north. It does not have and cannot have any friendly relations with the Sunni jihadi groups of the south. The movement started in the al-houthi clan and has since spread to the two major confederations of Zeidi tribesmen. The Houthis as a cult prefer not to fight if it can be avoided and captured the capital, Sanaa, with very little violence. Salih, a Zeidi tribesman understandably sides with the Houthis as opposed to the Sunni, left oriented people now running the government of the United Yemen.
- A government of national unity has been formed among; the Houthis and their army, the national army and the nationalist/left dominated functionaries now in office in Sanaa. This coalition is actively and successfully fighting the Sunni jihadis.
The US government response to all this is to denounce the Houthis and Salih as interfering with stability and the integrity of the Yemeni state. This reflects the ignorant, obsessive, insistance of the American foreign policy establishment that "one size fits all" in terms of the norms of governance across the world with the implication that the US embassies in such countries as Yemen are actually pro-consular outposts from which the ambassador/governor guides and controls the province/country in which he/she is located. When this attitude, derived from notions of "exceptionalism," is accompanied by the IR/Poly Sci paradigm of foreign relations now so evident in the US government, the result is the noxious self-defeating environment in which US decisions are now made. pl
Translation of the Houthi logo:
"God is Great
Death to America
Death to Israel
Rejection by God of the Jews
Victory for Islam."
You should not take the words in this too seriously. This is standard populist cant in the Muslim World. pl