April 1, 2015

The Biggest Loser of The Saudi Airstrikes Against Yemen: The Yemeni Army

An excerpt from, "Saudi Arabia Risks Quagmire in Yemen Campaign" by Peter Salisbury, World Politics Review, March 31, 2015:
With the Houthis unlikely to capitulate in the near future, Riyadh and Cairo—also a key player in the coalition—have publicly mulled putting boots on the ground in the Arab world’s poorest country in order to reinstate the beleaguered Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi as president. Doing so could well mean that the Saudis and their partners find themselves facing the same kind of challenges the U.S. faced in 2003 after invading Iraq, disbanding the national army and purging government institutions.

Part of their problem is that so far the loser in the Saudi-led campaign has been not the Houthis, but what is left of Yemen’s army. Explaining why that is requires some understanding of who the Houthis are and how they have risen to power so quickly.

Though the Houthis have often been portrayed as an Iranian proxy in Yemen, it is actually their unlikely partnership with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, deposed after the country’s 2011 uprising, that has allowed them to take over much of Yemen’s northern highlands and west coast. That marriage of convenience is surprising given the background of Yemen’s domestic conflicts. The Houthis’ formative years as a military force came during a six-year war with Saleh’s regime from 2004 to 2010. Saleh had initially encouraged the revival of Zaydism in order to counterbalance the growing political heft of Sunni Islamists who had helped him rise to power. But he turned on Hussein al-Houthi, a radical Zaydi cleric, when the latter began to criticize the Saleh regime for being corrupt and serving the agenda of foreign powers.
Even if a Saudi-led ground campaign manages to beat the Houthis, the coalition will find itself, like the U.S. in Iraq, occupying a country with no army, a collapsed economy and no state institutions to speak of, while battling multiple insurgencies against the Houthis and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. Riyadh and Hadi have effectively vetoed the idea of holding peace talks with the Houthis, and it is unlikely that they will be better placed to come to a rapprochement after a bloody war. The lesson from Iraq is a harsh one, and should be considered before the coalition starts putting boots on the ground.
Title:  Yemen Adrift: The Houthi Takeover and its Consequences for the Middle East. Source: WoodrowWilsonCenter. Date Published: January 30, 2015. Description:
The Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center hosted an event in which three experts discussed the current Yemini crisis and the future of the country following former President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi’s resignation.
"Now that Hadi has resigned, which the Houthis didn't want, they wanted a weak president in place, they wanted someone who they could dictate terms to, they find themselves in the position where it's possible for Saleh to put someone that he feels is amenable to his interests into place." - Peter Salisbury. 24:25 - 24:42.