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Terrorism & Security

Yemen heads toward civil war as Saleh escalates fight with major tribal leader

Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh has called for the arrest of Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, who is leading as many as 10,000 armed men from Yemen's most powerful tribal confederation.

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Amid the rapidly deteriorating security situation, on Wednesday the US ordered all nonessential diplomats out of the country and urged any Americans living there to leave, the Associated Press reports – a big step up from the previous travel warning, which allowed nonessential diplomats to leave but did not order it and merely suggested that Americans consider leaving.

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Saleh told reporters Wednesday that he would not allow the country to be dragged into a civil war, nor would Yemen become a "failed state" under his leadership, Al Jazeera reports. "What happened was a provocative act to drag us into civil war, but it is limited to the Ahmar sons," he said, referring to the recent clashes in the capital.

He also said that he would sign the deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that calls for him to step down within 30 days. He has made that claim before, only to back out at the last minute three times in a row – most recently this past weekend.

The US is watching Yemen anxiously, concerned that the instability and fighting between Yemeni factions is allowing the local Al Qaeda franchise, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a window of opportunity to expand its operations while eyes are watching Sanaa.

Yemen expert Gregory Johnsen, a former Fulbright in the country who is now a PhD student at Princeton University specializing in Yemen, says that the US is almost out of options and that the current predicament is a result of years of misguided policies.

Ignoring the country for a decade, and then spending the next decade tying US aid so closely to al-Qaeda's presence in the country, and then funneling all that money and equipment through a single family all is going to hurt the US. Although, of course, all of the above is a result of only seeing Yemen as a [counterterrorism]-problem that had to be solved.

... These mistakes can't simply be wished away, there are consequences, sometimes severe ones, for mistakes in policy - and the US doesn't get unlimited chances to do it right. Over the past three months the US got a single chance - the one thing it could control in a world of uncertainty - and it decided to put its money on the GCC and its deeply flawed plan.

By taking a back seat to the GCC plan, the US squandered away its leverage and influence when it still could have made a difference to Salih's thinking. Now, he isn't going to sign the plan and he's involved in a major fight with the al-Ahmar family.... My suspicion is that Salih's planning is to defeat the al-Ahmar family decisively...

IN PICTURES: Yemen protests

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