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World View: U.S. Cuts Military Advisers to Saudis in Yemen as Peace Talks Collapse

This morning’s key headlines from GenerationalDynamics.com

  • Massive rally in Sanaa, Yemen interrupted by Saudi warplane bombing
  • Generational history of Shia Houthis in Yemen
  • US military reduces support for Saudi coalition in Yemen

Massive rally in Sanaa Yemen interrupted by Saudi warplane bombing

Anti-Saudi rally in Sanaa Yemen on Saturday (Twitter)
Anti-Saudi rally in Sanaa Yemen on Saturday (Twitter)

An estimated 100,000 Yemenis attended a rally in Sanaa, Yemen’s capital city, on Saturday. The rally had been planned for weeks, so people had come from many regions outside of Sanaa.

The purpose of the rally was to protest resumed air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition following the collapse of peace talks early in August, and to support a new “governing council” set up by the Iran-backed Shia Houthis that had overthrown the Saudi-backed government in a coup in 2014. Shortly after that, a Saudi Arabia-led coalition began airstrikes with the intention of restoring the internationally recognized government.

Although not all the protesters on Saturday were pro-Houthi, they were all in favor of seeing the airstrikes end, and supported the Houthi’s governing council as the way to do that.

There had been a three-month ceasefire while peace talks in Kuwait had proceeded with no progress. The Saudis wanted to restore the status quo ante with the pro-Saudi government, while the Houthis wanted to retain control of the government following their successful coup. Once the peace talks collapsed three weeks ago, the Saudi-led coalition resumed airstrikes.

Saturday’s huge rally was interrupted by Saudi warplanes passing overhead and conducting bombing raids. Early stories on the BBC reported that the Saudi warplanes had bombed the rally, as described by a correspondent in Sanaa:

Suddenly the Saudi jets started circling on top of us, and as always, we thought they would just fly by, just trying to scare the crowd.

Suddenly they started bombing and the crowd started running. I basically bolted out of the area. People started screaming… Because everybody’s very well armed, they started shooting their AK-47s and their machine guns into the sky.

However, later reports indicated that the warplanes had attacked targets on a nearby mountain. BBC and France24

Generational history of Shia Houthis in Yemen

The Houthis are a branch of Shia Islam that took hold in southern Arabia (currently Yemen) in the century following the death of the prophet Mohammed. In the decades following Mohammed’s death, there were conflicts as to who would succeed Mohammed as caliph of Islam. One group insisted that any new caliph must be a direct descendant of Mohammed himself, and they particularly selected Mohammed’s grandson, Husayn ibn Ali (626-680), often referred to as just Ali. The partisans of Ali became known as Shia or Shiites.

Ali was killed in the seminal Battle of Karbala in a generational crisis war that climaxed in 680, splitting the Muslim community, and throwing the question of succession into chaos. In the following decades, the group that won the war (the Umayyads) became known as the Sunnis, and they selected caliphs by a variety of means, including elections, inheritance, and wars.

The Shias formed a completely separate branch of succession, referring to their leaders as Imams. They continued to insist that any imam must be a direct descendant of Mohammed, and must therefore be a direct descendant of Husayn ibn Ali. As it turned out, Ali had nine descendants, with the last one, the 12th imam, disappearing in 873.

Today, Shia Muslims are still divided over which of these imams was going to return as the messiah to avenge injustices to the Shia. This belief is roughly equivalent to the Christian belief in the second coming of Christ, or the Buddhist belief in the Maitreya — that a new Buddha is to appear on earth, and will achieve complete enlightenment.

One sect broke off in 740 and was known as the Zaydis, or “Fivers,” because of their allegiance to the fifth imam. These are the Houthis today.

Another Shia sect are called “Seveners,” because of their allegiance to the seventh imam.

Most Shias today are “Twelvers,” because of their allegiance to the 12th imam, also called “The Hidden Imam,” who disappeared in 873, as described above. According to the Twelver belief, he did not die, but disappeared, and will reappear at the appropriate time. Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran’s 1979 Great Islamic Revolution, apparently claimed that he was the 13th imam, the Allah-appointed successor to Ali and to Mohammed himself. (From November 2009: “Theological split in Iran widens as opposition protests continue”)

US military reduces support for Saudi coalition in Yemen

Saudi Arabia has been under increasing international pressure to end the airstrikes in Yemen, and simply let the Houthis take over. Since the Houthis are supported by their hated enemy Iran, that kind of solution would be a major regional victory for Iran, and I would be very surprised to see anything like that happen.

The aid group Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, Doctors without Borders) on Friday announced that they were pulling their staff out of six hospitals in northern Yemen, giving as a reason that their staff were not safe from the Saudis’ “indiscriminate bombings,” which sometimes struck the hospitals in which MSF were working.

According to MSF:

Over the last eight months, MSF has met with high-ranking Saudi-led coalition officials on two occasions in Riyadh [Saudi Arabia’s capital city] to secure humanitarian and medical assistance for Yemenis, as well as to seek assurances that attacks on hospitals would end…

Aerial bombings have, however, continued, despite the fact that MSF has systematically shared the GPS coordinates of hospitals in which we work with the parties involved in the conflict. Coalition officials repeatedly state that they [honor] international humanitarian law, yet this attack shows a failure to control the use of force and to avoid attacks on hospitals full of patients. MSF is neither satisfied nor reassured by the Saudi-led coalition’s statement that this [August 15] attack was a mistake.

International rights groups have also criticized the United States for providing support to the Saudis in the Yemen war. According to an analyst interviewed on Saturday on the BBC, the US became part of the Saudi coalition in the hope of working with the Saudis to guarantee that Yemeni civilians would be protected, but that has been unsuccessful.

U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet spokesman Lieutenant Ian McConnaughey on Saturday announced that the US military has been slashing the number of intelligence advisers directly supporting the Saudi-led coalition’s air war in Yemen, because of concerns over civilian casualties. The number of advisers has gone from 45 to “less than five.” McConnaughey said that the number of advisers could be increased again, “if the need arises.” Saudi Gazette and CNN and AFP

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Yemen, Sanaa, Saudi Arabia, Houthis, Shia Islam, Husayn ibn Ali, Battle of Karbala, Umayyads, Zaydis, Fivers, Seveners, Twelvers, Iran, Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini, Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF, Doctors without Borders, Ian McConnaughey
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