Yemen is now the latest focal point in a multi-national proxy-war between Iran and the Middle East’s Sunni Arab states.
An Iranian-supported Shiite insurgency based in northern Yemen has swept through much of the west of the country. The Shiite Houthis now control Yemen’s capital Sanaa and have launched attacks all the way to the southern al-Anad air base outside of the port city of Aden.
Here is a current map of territorial control in Yemen.
The Houthi offensive southward has forced Yemen’s President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to flee the country from the southern coaster city of Aden by boat. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, has launched airstrikes against the Houthis in the north of Yemen with backing from Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, Jordan, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar.
Iran has condemned the strikes, warning that they make the possibility of a peaceful reconciliation within Yemen impossible. However, the likelihood of a peaceful settlement to the crisis was already slim to none.
The Houthis, with Iranian support, have been coordinating their offensives throughout the country in conjunction with army units loyal to Yemen’s former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who stepped down from power during the Arab Spring in 2011. These units have been fighting against army units loyal to Hadi, as well as Sunni tribesmen opposed to the spread of the Shiite Houthis.
This fighting, meanwhile, has left large swaths of eastern Yemen without any sort of state control.
Worryingly, there is a large entrenched al Qaeda in the Arabia Peninsula (AQAP) presence in the country’s desert frontier. AQAP is thought of as the most capable of the various al Qaeda branches, and the one with the greatest ability to strike at Western targets.
AQAP claimed responsibility for the deadly attack on the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo in January, and increasing lawlessness in Yemen will likely play in AQAP’s favour.
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