The capture of the province of Amran and its capital by Houthi rebels earlier this month ignited a storm of recrimination in Yemen’s politics. That storm that continued to rage this week as the country’s political leaders rushed to apportion blame for the disaster.
The Houthis’ arch enemy, the Al-Islah Party, has been particularly vocal. At an Iftar banquet with local and international journalists on July 22, the secretary-general of Al-Islah, Abdul-Wahab Al-Ansi, called for a full investigation of the affair and demanded that all those found responsible be held fully accountable.
He also said that the insurgents’ victory in Amran, only 50 kilometers from the capital, Sana’a, was the result of either failure or betrayal. In terms of failure, he can only have been speaking of the tribal fighters in the area who are aligned with his party and the 310th Armored Brigade led by the late Brig. Gen. Hamid Al-Qashibi. Despite the fact that it is part of the national army, the brigade and its commander were known to be loyal to Al-Islah.
During the fall of Amran, Houthi insurgents reportedly raided all of the military and security installations in the area, including the headquarters of the 310th Brigade. In the course of the fighting, General Qashibi was killed along with his aides, one of whom was his son. Qashibi’s body arrived back in Sana’a with the bodies of his son and two senior commanders earlier this week, following intensive negotiations with the Houthis, who held the bodies in Saada, their northern stronghold. Qashibi was a hated figure among the insurgents, whom they blamed for the killing of the movement’s founder, Sayyid Hussein Badreddin Al-Houthi, by the Yemeni Army in 2004.
As for “betrayal,” members of Al-Islah have accused President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and his defense minister, Mohamad Ahmad, of conspiring with the Houthis against the Al-Islah Party, whose members includes influential religious, tribal and military figures who do not always see eye-to-eye with the president.
Hundreds of Islamist and tribal activists gathered around the home of the defense minister in Sana’a calling for his dismissal and trial, accusing him of committing “high treason” by failing to provide military reinforcements to the 310th Brigade to stop the Houthi rebels from taking control of Amran.
At the banquet, Ansi acknowledged that his party was not infallible, and said: “If evidence was found that the Al-Islah Party, as a party or as individuals who are affiliated to it, have made mistakes, then the party will apologize and rectify the mistakes.” But it may now be too late to do so.
According to sources who spoke to The Majalla, the fall of Amran was not the result of a failure to send reinforcements, but rather the fact that General Qashibi was fighting the Houthis without permission from the defense minister and President Hadi.
As for the battle itself, military and security sources told The Majalla that of the 10,000 members of the 310th Armored Brigade, only about 1,000 soldiers were actually present. In this account, Qashibi’s determination to carry on fighting to the end, and the determination of the Houthis to have him removed or transferred as a condition of ending hostilities, led the brigade’s soldiers to conclude that the battle was hopeless.
The fact that the soldiers knew the defense minister and President Hadi were trying through presidential mediation to persuade Qashibi to move to Taiz also played an important role. On the day of the attack, a presidential committee attempting to arrange a ceasefire arrived and asked Qashibi to leave and hand over his base to the military police. He refused, and the battle started a few minutes after the committee left.
The UN Security Council called on “all armed groups and parties involved in the violence [to] withdraw and relinquish control of Amran,” and for “military units to remain committed to their obligation of neutrality at the service of the [Yemeni] State.” Statements like this from the UN and other international figures drew an angry response from Al-Islah, with the chairman of the party describing the Houthis as a “Yemeni ISIS.”
In order to stem the anger of members of Al-Islah, Qashibi was given two funerals by the Yemeni government: one official funeral inside the Defense Ministry’s complex in Sana’a, and a second, public ceremony in central Sana’a, to allow the maximum number of people to attend.
Meanwhile, the struggle between the two sides is continuing elsewhere. The Houthis continue to fight sporadic battles with Al-Islah Party militias in Al-Jawf and areas around Sana’a, such as Arhab and Hamdan. The fact that the Houthis are Zaydi Shi’ites and Al-Islah are Sunnis lends an ugly sectarian dimension to the continuing violence. The Houthis give the same reasons for fighting as they did before taking control of Amran: they say the governor of Al-Jawf backs Al-Islah and its militias fight against them in Al-Safra’a, Baraqish and Hajar.
Both sides are also well armed. Al-Jawf tribes allied to the Al-Islah looted an army base and a security forces base in Al-Jawf during the popular uprising against former president Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011. The heavy and medium weapons stored in these two bases are still in the hands of the Al-Islah militias currently fighting the Houthis.
Security and local sources say thousands of fighters affiliated to the Al-Islah Party have arrived from Al-Bayda, Marib, Nahm and Arhab to fight the Houthis in oil-rich Al-Jawf, despite presidential mediation aimed at defusing the tension and ending the fighting.
The area of Arhab, which is near Sana’a airport, is the third flashpoint because it is one of the strongholds of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and home for influential Al-Islah leaders sympathetic to the organization, such as Masour Al-Hanq and controversial cleric Abdul Majeed Al-Zindani, who are openly hostile to the Houthis.
This battle, too, is fraught with accusations of betrayal and not-so-hidden loyalties. The Houthis accuse President Hadi’s adviser, Gen. Ali Muhsin, of supporting Al-Islah-affiliated groups in Al-Jawf and Arhab, as he supported them in Amran.
Complicating the situation even further is the fact that the Al-Islah Party accuses Saleh and his party, the General People’s Congress, of supporting the Houthis in the battles currently raging. However, the party has persistently called for an alliance with Saleh and his party against the Houthi expansion, which is seen as a threat to the republic and its unity.
All views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, The Majalla magazine.