Yemen's instability could draw regional players into fray

The impoverished country's battles against Shiite rebels and a growing Al Qaeda threat have heightened tensions between Sunni and Shiite neighbors in the region.

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By the standards of terrorism and security, Yemen has a lot to worry about: an explosive Shiite insurgency in the north and a war with Al Qaeda brewing in the south.

How one of the Middle East's poorest and most unstable countries resolves these conflicts has implications for the entire region, observers say, for its sectarian strife is already heightening tensions between Sunni and Shiite neighbors in the region.

The government has launched fierce attacks against the Shiite rebels in the north, known as the Houthis, in the last month, but has failed to defeat them. Yemen's president vowed Wednesday to crush the Houthis quickly, saying reinforcements would be sent to the rebel stronghold of Saada Province after fighting that has killed hundreds and displaced thousands, Reuters reports.

As the government has struggled to contain the north, Al Qaeda is benefiting from the chaos, observers say. A new report on Al Qaeda in Yemen from the Middle East Institute in Moscow warns that Yemen has become a strategic hub for Al Qaeda, reports the Yemen Post. The terrorist organization has strengthened its position in Yemen, the report says, and has turned the ungoverned spaces of the country into a transport hub for fighters going to conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and East Africa.

A month ago The Christian Science Monitor warned:

The Yemeni and Saudi branches of Al Qaeda merged in January this year, prompting the US director of National Intelligence to say that Yemen was "reemerging as a jihadist battleground and potential regional base of operations for Al Qaeda."

Editorials published around the region are warning that Yemen's mess is already pulling regional nations in to the fray. Nasser Arrabayee writes in Cairo's Al Ahram:

The armed conflict in Yemen is also connected to a wider political conflict in the region. After the outbreak of the conflict, Iran accused Saudi Arabia of participating in air strikes against the Shia rebels, who are also accused by the Yemeni government of receiving support from Iran.

Mr. Arrabayee quotes Najeeb Ghallab, a political analyst at Sanaa University:

"Any threat to the Yemeni state will also threaten Saudi Arabia, the only force that can confront Iran. Iran therefore has an interest in promoting threats to Yemen."

An editorial in Lebanon's Daily Star newspaper admonishes that to keep the north and south, Yemen needs to strengthen its central government, and that means addressing corruption.

Many of the factors at play in the northern conflict, and indeed other conflicts across the country, are beyond [Yemeni President Ali Abdullah] Saleh's control. But one thing that he can influence greatly is the poor performance of the central government.
Widespread corruption across various government branches only exacerbates Yemen's problems by further depriving impoverished citizens of much-needed aid and other resources.
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