« Meanwhile In Yemen, Our Foreign Policy Prospers.. by Walrus. | Main | Podcast on the subject of "Strike The Tent" W. Patrick Lang »

26 March 2015


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Babak Makkinejad

Yup, become a province of KSA and partake of the government oil-money largess.

Jerry Thompson

I was intensely involved in Yemen in the early 90's but, since that time, have only followed it for the most part as an extension of Iraq. As you will see, I have used some speculation to fill in the gaps in my specific knowledge of events in Yemen since that experience -- I hope you will agree it is 'informed speculation' but -- comment as appropriate.

From my perspective, this whole tale, from roughly 2001 to the present, makes a lot more sense if we see the Houthi as "Bakil" rather than Houthi. Most of you will know, the Bakil are the 'opposition' tribal confederation in the tribal constellation of the politics of northern Yemen. The dominant confederation have been the Hashid.

Thinking of them as the Bakil confederation helps me enormously in understanding their strength. It also helps explain the conflict in the north by suggesting that what we are seeing is not a "Iranian-inspired Shi'a rebellion against the Sunni government" but rather an internal, tribal-based, civil war between the Bakil confederation and the Hashid confederation, of which the Al-Ahmar are predominant. Both the Hashid and Bakil are predominantly Zaidi which makes them both Shi'a-sort-of. Understanding that they are both Zaidi helps greatly in understanding both the closeness and the distance of Iranian engagement in Yemen.

The rivalry between the Hashid and Bakil, to my observation, was always manipulated by the Saudis to protect and further their interests in Yemen. The Saudis primary conduit was through the Hashid (Al Ahmar). The Bakil were disadvantaged in this relationship and their resentment grew.

Ali Abdullah Saleh was a Sanhan, a minor tribe of the Hashid. He and the old sheikh of the Ahmar played rather artfully off one another, to the consternation of the Saudis and the frustration of the Bakil.

Then, earlier in the '90's, the paramount sheikh of the Bakil, an Abu Lahum died. Somehow, through the 90's and early years of the 2000's -- I really wasn't watching -- the Houthis seem to have risen above the Abu Lahum and Al Shayef in the Bakil pecking order. Then, when old Abdullah al Ahmar died, the Hashid seem to have similarly begun 'bumping shoulders' to re-order the Hashid.

Ali Abdullah Saleh was increasingly 'odd man out' -- but, he had a 'good buddy', the Al Qai'dia-fixated U.S., which gladly provided resources which marginally sustained his usefulness to the Al Ahmar and the Saudis -- and increasingly frustrated the Bakil (Houthi).

Along came the Arab ?Spring? and, it appears, the Saudis lost patience with Ali Abdullah's "Dancing on the Heads of Snakes" (great book) figureheads and patronage style and decided to take advantage of the opportunity to displace him. The main candidates were all from the Al Ahmar but couldn't agree among themselves -- to Saudi consternation and, from that point it appears that the Bakil began to seriously mobilize to first support the Houthi and then turn full-scale against the Al Ahmar. Can't tell for sure, but it looks like a lot of the Hashid have stood aside.

To the extent there is a Sunni-Shi'a conflict in all this, it exists because the Southerners are Sunni. There are divisions among the Southerners but it is fair to think of the majority as separatists, resenting the authority of the north. So, to the extent there is a Sunni-Shi'a dimension in this dispute, it may be better to understand it as a "One Yemen" vs "Two Yemens" political dispute.

This has really gone a long way and 'walking the dog back' is extremely unlikely. As Martin J and PL have pointed out, the 'way ahead' is to stand aside and let the North and South separate. The Al Ahmar and the Houthi/Bakil are going to have to negotiate.

It would be helpful if the Saudis would stay out of it but this is extremely unlikely as they most likely perceive the Bakil as threatening their hold on Asir -- most likely, it is the Saudi perception of this threat which has been the dominant driver of their policy toward Yemen since the Houthi/Bakil uprising began; the second being to contain and minimize AQAP. So, the Saudis are not going to stay out of it.

It would be best, for everybody, if the Saudis would mediate -- not likely, as it seems King Salman has decided to use Yemen as the proper object of his 'creed sign', internally and externally. Their current intervention will continue until they break it off. This might occur sooner if Saudi 'pragmatists' are able to assert themselves but they seem scarce at present. The longer this intervention persists, the worse this will all get. "Quagmire" seems inadequate to describe its potential because of the potential humanitarian, economic and social consequences which increase the longer the Saudis persist -- 'Great Dismal Swamp' seems a better metaphor.

The only 'player' who may gain from all this is AQAP (which could morph into an IS-affiliate). Everybody hates them: the Hashid, the Bakil, the Southern Separatists, and the Saudis; all of which are presently fighting each other. Things are working out better for them than if they had a strategy of their own.

Any support we are providing to the Saudi intervention seems to me to only prolong the extent and magnitude of the damage to our interests in Yemen and to Yemeni lives.

The only conceivable purpose our support of the Saudis might accomplish would be to validate our credentials as reliable allies of the Saudis and their GCC colleagues and thereby, garner their forbearance in the ongoing 'nuclear file' negotiations with the Iranians. We might, ourselves, convince ourselves that we are garnering this benefit. It is doubtful that the Saudis and their allies think that our performance in this case merits their trust -- to them, this case is likely a poor counter to their perception of our commitment to their interests in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Israel, etc.

William R. Cumming

Are any Saudi Arabian borders defensible without US participation?

FB Ali

Thank you for this overview. I do not have the knowledge to comment on your explication of the internal politics of the Zaidi tribes. However, some other points you make appear to be valid projections.

I agree that the longer the Saudi intervention lasts, the worse things will get for them (and, of course, the Yemenis). It also seems likely that AQAP will be the sole beneficiary. Your suggestion that AQAP could morph into an IS affiliate is interesting. In my opinion the more instability and conflict there is in the ME, the stronger will IS become.

As for the US, at the moment it seems the only policy it is following in that region is to stoke the conflicts, wherever they are occurring. While this is of obvious benefit to the US military and its suppliers, I doubt if it serves any rational policy objective.


So, along comes Nasrallah who lays out a blistering indictment the perfidious Saudis; their attack on Yemen being the trigger. He lays out the evidence via their history of betrayal. During the diatribe, he also out-and-out credits the "retired" Prince Bandar with Daesh. Sounds about right.

This speech was historically harsh with unknown consequences. The actual words matter and It's a tough call to find English transcripts/


This article is followed by a simultaneous translation of the SHN speech. It's fairly thorough. The MSM will be running their own specially crafted versions of what Nasrallah said that are tailored for the audience being cajoled and massaged into forgetting who spawned al-Qaeda and 9/11.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

February 2021

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
Blog powered by Typepad