EXCLUSIVE: Yemen’s Iran-Backed Houthis Accuse U.N. of ‘Standing By,’ Demand Special Envoy Be Removed

AP Photo/Hani Mohammed
AP Photo/Hani Mohammed

A senior official with Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels told Breitbart News that the group is refusing to deal with the U.N. unless it replaces its special envoy for the region.

“There is a massacre being carried out in Yemen and the U.N. has been standing by – this has to stop.” Ibrahim Al-Doulaini, a senior Houthi official, told Breitbart News. “Even worse than standing by, the U.N. has covered up crimes and human rights abuses by Saudi Arabia and attacks against civilians and made sure that Saudi Arabia is shielded from international furor.”

The Shiite Houthi rebels took over the nation’s capital, Sana’a, in 2014, sending President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi fleeing to the southern port city of Aden. After a failed UN mediation process that climaxed with a fistfight triggered by a woman throwing a shoe at a Houthi negotiator, a Saudi-led Sunni military coalition began launching airstrikes in 2015 to prevent the Houthis from advancing throughout the rest of Yemen.

The Houthis enjoy the support of Saudi Arabia’s regional rival, Iran, who have reportedly funneled military advisers and advanced weapons to the group in an attempt to shift the balance of power in the Middle East.

“Yemen is where the real proxy war is going on and winning the battle in Yemen will help define the balance of power in the Middle East,” a senior Iranian official told Reuters in March.

The civil war has reached a tentative stalemate that has allowed terrorist groups like al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State to expand its foothold in the country. 

The U.S. has launched at least two raids this year against AQAP militants, who have used the ungoverned sections of the country to expand its reach. AQAP has also created a famine and growing cholera epidemic the international community has failed to properly address. According to U.N. figures, 14 million Yemenis are classified as “food insecure,” while over three million have been displaced.

The Houthis blame the Saudi-led coalition for the deaths of civilians. They point in particular to the bombing of a funeral in Sana’a in October that killed 140 civilians. The Saudis, in turn, blame the Houthis, whom they call a “radical militia” and accuse of staging a coup and starving the people to fund their war efforts.

“The areas under government control have no problem distributing aid,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said at a press availability with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last month.

“The areas that the Houthis control, they steal the aid and they sell it to fund their war machine. The starvation that exists in Yemen exists because the Houthis laid siege on towns and villages and will not allow humanitarian supplies to get in. That’s why people are starving, not because of the bombing,” he said.

Houthi officials, however, say that much of the blame for the lack of a peace deal rests with U.N. Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed – whom they accuse of being inexperienced, biased toward the Saudis, and part of a body that is standing by as civilians are killed by airstrikes.

“We have decided at the highest level Ansar Allah movement that we are no longer going to deal with the U.N. until it changes its envoy because he is the worst thing to ever happen to Yemen – he is incompetent and corrupt, and they need to appoint someone who is impartial and neutral,” Al-Doulaini told Breitbart News.

Ahmed was appointed to the role in 2015 after serving as a Mauritanian diplomat and has served in a number of roles at the U.N. But his critics say that none of his prior tasks qualified him for one of the toughest diplomatic portfolios. Ahmed’s spokesman did not respond to a request for comment from Breitbart News.

The demand for Ahmed’s firing comes after the Houthis told Al Jazeera this month that the envoy would no longer be allowed into Houthi-controlled territory. A spokesman said then that Ahmed had abandoned his neutrality and did not respect U.N. resolutions. Houthis have also criticized Ahmed for barely being in the country after his convoy was attacked in May during a three-day visit to Sana’a.

Ahmed’s assessment of the situation on the ground in Yemen is grim. In his most recent briefing in May to the U.N. Security Council, he noted an intensifying of shelling and violence on the Yemen-Saudi border. He also said Houthi missiles were fired into Saudi territory and warned of the militarization of the population as fighting continues. He said the prospect of a peace agreement anytime soon appears bleak.

“I will not hide from this Council that we are not close to a comprehensive agreement. The reluctance of the key parties to embrace the concessions needed for peace, or even discuss them, remains extremely troubling,” he said. “Yemenis are paying a price for their needless delay.”

A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, when asked about Ahmed’s job security, said he “continues his work as the Special Envoy.”

“We reiterate our call on all parties to the conflict to engage constructively in negotiations over a cessation of hostilities and resumption of peace talks,” the spokesman said.

There are signs that the U.N. is considering moving Ahmed. A report by the Libyan Express said that Ahmed was being considered as a replacement for current Libyan Special Envoy Martin Kobler. But U.N. blog Inner City Press reported that Lebanese culture minister Ghassan Salameh had been picked for the job instead.

On Saturday, the government accepted a U.N. proposal that the Houthi-held port of Hodeidah – a delivery point for aid – be turned over to a neutral party. But Reuters reported that Houthis remained skeptical and accused the Security Council of encouraging Saudi aggression.

There are perhaps few reasons for the Trump administration to sympathize with the Houthi movement. Its motto is “God Is Great, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse on the Jews, Victory to Islam.” But Houthi officials insist they are not against the American people, slogan aside, but they want a new approach from the White House and from the United Nations.

“We are not against the American people and we never attacked the American people. It now has a chance to open a new page in Yemen, to stop the war the Obama administration fueled. We hope [the Trump administration] will seize the change and stop the war against the Yemeni citizens,” he said.

Adam Shaw is a politics reporter for Breitbart News based in New York. Follow Adam on Twitter: @AdamShawNY.

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