In a little over a week of sporadic clashes with followers of Yemeni Shi?ite rebel leader, Abdel Malek al-Houthi, at least 42 Yemeni soldiers were killed and 81 were injured.
Yemen has been fighting Ziadi rebels since June 2004 when al-Houthi?s brother, Hussein Badr a-Deen al Houthi, led his forces in an uprising against the government. Clashes between the Sunni government and Shi?ite rebel group seem to have intensified alongside the factional conflict in Iraq and Saudi Arabia . The growing fear for Yemen is the Shi?ite rebel sects? unceasing and violent will to install Shi?ite religious rule could potentially pull other non-rebel Shi?ites into the mix. While regional states share a similar concern over unrest in their respective Shiite communities, the international concern with the Ziadi sect is the vehement preaching of violence against the United States and the likelihood of the rebel group to align with terrorists to this end.
Uprising of Ziadi Rebels
On Saturday, January 27, Ziadi Shi?ite rebels attacked government checkpoints and gatherings of soldiers in Saada province, 75 miles north of Yemen?s capital, Sanaa, leaving six Yemeni army and police troops killed and 20 wounded. This was the start of a weeklong campaign of violent skirmishes that resulted in seven times more Yemeni soldier deaths than Ziadi Shi?ite rebels. President Ali Abdullah Saleh warned the rebel fighters shortly after the conflict started to surrender their weapons or face offensive confrontations. However, the group has not surrendered nor did the government engage in any confrontations as of yet.
Though this is not the first violent confrontation with the rebel group, it is the most recent clash in almost two years. The last major clash was in March 2005, which left 12 dead including four Yemeni police . One year later, the Yemeni government freed more than 600 rebels as part of an amnesty program to put an end to two years of clashes that have killed hundreds of soldiers and rebels. Unfortunately, the amnesty only paused the rebels? operations for a little less than a year.
The willingness to launch the March 2005 confrontation and the current uprising aginst the Yemeni government reveals the level of confidence the Iraqi Shi?ite insurgency has instilled in their Yemeni counterparts . Iraq?s Shi?ite majority and ruling power supplies struggling Shi?ite rebel groups in Yemen with a lifeline of inspirational power. Violent Shi?ite and Sunni clashes in Iraq function as a model for how to attain power. To other Arab onlookers, it seems like the only functional option. Now more than ever, the fear of regional influence for Shi?ite support is at its peak.
Implications on Regional Conflicts and the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT)
Saudi Arabia?s Shi?ite minority has experienced much civil unrest in past years concerning their rights and representation in the Kingdom. However, even after some improvements and steps forward in voting and protesting, the restless minority?s hopes for equality has decreased again in recent months. In this situation the fear is the potential for Saudi Shi?ite minority groups (especially those in the south) becoming angrier and potentially becoming a source of energy for fellow Shi?ite brothers and sisters in Yemen. The rebel group?s proximity to Saudi Arabia could also make it logistically easier to fund and fuel violent, anti-government campaigns. Additionally, Iran?s Shi?ite majority, though not known to lend any funding or support to Yemen?s Shi?ite rebel group, may do so in the future.
The rebel sect?s two guiding principles: 1) overthrow the current regime and install a strictly Shi?ite governing body and 2) preach violence against the United States. The second principle is most concerning to the GWOT. In the eyes of the Ziadi rebels, the Yemeni government has been grouped with the ?enemy state,? the U.S., ever since President Saleh joined the U.S.-led GWOT shortly after the September 11th attacks . The fear, in this case, is that this would be the underlying premise from which Shi?ite rebels and other anti-U.S. terrorist groups join forces. Even though al-Qaeda , for instance, does not affiliate itself with the Shi?ite sect of Islam, the two groups? shared hatred for the U.S. coupled with Yemen?s reputation as the ancestral homeland of Osama bin Laden may be the tipping point for the two to align.