Armies of Liberation

Jane Novak's blog about Yemen

Houthis vs. Islah in al Jawf

Filed under: Islah, Local gov, Saada War, Tribes, al Jawf, political violence — by Jane Novak at 7:10 am on Monday, October 3, 2011

The YT has a good write up of the conflict in al Jawf and comes to the conclusion the Houthis are expansionist.

Yemen Times: Sunni-Shiites war in Al-Jawf

War broke out five months ago between Houthi rebels – who are Shiite Muslims – and the locals of Al-Jawf governorate – themselves Sunni Muslims – 143 km northwest of the capital city of Sana’a.

Around 470 Houthis were killed and over 85 of Al-Jawf’ s citizens lost their lives in this four-month-long war, Sheikh Arfj Bin Hadban, a local tribal leader in Al-Jawf, told the Yemen Times.

“This is a religious war. The tribesmen here had fought against the Houthis after they [Houthis] came to our land and attempted to impose their doctrine, which is Shiite, and no one in our area believed in it. This doctrine insults the wives of the prophet Mohamed PBUH and his companions and this is not permissible in our religion,” said Hadban.

Both sides have used a large variety of weapons during the bloody confrontations, an exception being use of planes, according to the tribal leader.

“All of the population here is heavily armed, and the Houthis are equipped with advanced weapons because they occupied some state- military camps during their fighting with the government’s army in the six rounds of war,” he said.

Two months ago, a local tribal mediation committee was able to bring about a truce between the two sides. According to a tribal leader who participated in the battles with the Houthis, the ceasefire was conditional on the Houthis withdrawing non-resident elements from Al-Jawf, as well as on a cessation of their disseminating religious ideas in the governorate.

Local sources state the the Houthis did indeed abide by the conditions, leading to a suspension of war since that point. But this truce may break at any moment amidst a lack of state control after opposition forces took over the governorate last April, in line with nationwide protests demanding an end to president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year rule.

“Nowadays there is an uneasy calm in the governorate and we think it is merely a break; if they attack us again, we will fight back,” said the tribal leader in Al-Jawf. “They have no land, nor inheritance or power in our area,”

The same opposition forces affiliated with the traditional opposition coalition known as the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) – which itself participated in fighting against the Houthi Shiites – were also involved in a four-month war against the Houthis, but not for religious purposes.

“The local Islah opposition members who are affiliated with the JMP have entered into open battles with the Houthis over the 115th Military Brigade [which was occupied by tribesmen opposed to the current regime] and other state buildings in the governorate,” said Bin Hadban “They [Houthis] said that they are present in the change squares, so they want their share in the military camp and other state facilities.”

“The Islah members who are in control of the governorate have refused the Houthis’ demand and said that they will not hand over the camp and state facilities until a new regime is in place,” he added.

Paradoxically, the Houthis are united in peaceful protest with JMP members in the change squares against Saleh’s regime but at the same time engaged in war in areas where allies have taken control due to different religious backgrounds or interests.

Other tribal sources told the Yemen Times that a tribal negotiation committee suggested that the 115th Military Brigade, now opposition-held, be handed over to leading army defector Ali Mohsen’s First Armored Division?

“Now some military teams of the first armored division are being prepared to be sent to take over the camp,” according to a local source.

However, Dr. Ahmed Al-Daghashi, an expert on Islamic movements, said in an interview with the Yemen Times that “in general, what has been taking place between the Houthis and their rivals is not based on religion, but they [Houthis] use religion to extend their influence.”

“I think that the Houthis are moving on the basis of expanding their influence in an attempt to take over as much area as they can,” said Al-Daghashi.

He highlighted that the recent developments in Al-Jawf have revealed that “the Houthis were not serious when they used to say in the past that they were defending themselves.”

He explained that the Houthis used to speak about self-defense during their fighting against government forces, but after moving to Harf Sufyan of Amran governorate, some parts of Hajja and, recently, Al-Jawf, “this has clearly emphasized that they [Houthis] are working to take control of as much as possible of Yemen’s northern areas.”

“It is irrational that the Houthis fight violently against their current allies in the political work [Islahis] who are well-connected to one another during this revolution against Saleh. They attempted to prevent the Islahis from protecting state buildings in the governorate until handing them over to the coming regime when the revolution succeeds, according to the statements of the Islahis,” he said.

“And this is the thing the Houthis did not like which confirms that religion has nothing to do with what is going on,” he said ” They are not moved by the religion in their conflict either before the 2011 revolution or after it, but only power longing to rule Yemen.”

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