Yemen appears to be on the brink of civil war. The U.N. special envoy to the country said as much when he briefed the United Nations Security Council over the weekend.
Jamal Benomar warned of the grave consequences that could lie ahead for Yemen. “Any side that would want to push the country in either direction would be inviting a protracted conflict in the vein of an Iraq-Libya-Syria combined scenario,” the envoy said. Benomar warned that the country was on the “edge of civil war”.
In New York, the Security Council expressed its support for President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who took refuge in the southern city of Aden after the Houthis, a Shi’ite Muslim group backed by Iran, overtook Sanaa in September.
Hadi and several of his cabinet ministers were placed under house arrest before the president escaped to Aden in February. Hadi has essentially setup a dual-government in the city, challenging the Houthis in Sanaa.
Backed by Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf Arab countries, Hadi insists that he remains the country’s president despite being forced out of the capital.
The situation in Yemen has deteriorated quickly over the last few days, with much of the international community expressing alarm.
On Friday, at least 137 people were killed and hundreds injured in suicide bombing attacks that hit two mosques in Sanaa during Friday prayers. The mosques were primarily attended by the Houthis. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attacks.
The Houthis have been making several advances in the country over the past few months, the most recent move occurred over the weekend. On Sunday, they took control of much of Yemen’s third-largest city, Taiz, located a little more than 100 miles from Aden.
On Saturday, Washington announced that it was withdrawing around 100 special operations forces and evacuating the Al Anad air base after al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, AQAP, targeted the nearby the city of al-Houta. The base was used in coordination with the American drone program that has targeted several members of AQAP over the past several years.
The United States had earlier closed its embassy in Sanaa in February citing the security situation. Several other countries followed suit, with others, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, setting up diplomatic posts in Aden.
The situation in Yemen today is a far cry from President Obama’s speech last September when he cited Yemen as a successful example of Washington’s counter-terrorism campaign.
With the Houthis in control of Sanaa and Taiz, Hadi based in Aden, AQAP having areas of influence in central and eastern Yemen and the Islamic State group growing in strength in the country, Yemen is seemingly on a collision course toward a civil war.
Yemen’s Foreign Minister Riyadh Yaseen called on the Gulf countries to intervene in Yemen to stop the Houthis from advancing.
“We have addressed both the [Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)] and the U.N. for the need of [imposing] a no-fly zone and banning the use of warplanes at the airports controlled by the Houthis,” Yaseen said.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister responded by saying that while he hoped the situation could be resolved peacefully, his country would take necessary steps against “aggression” along with its allies in the region.