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Yemen at war

Published Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The conflict in Yemen is causing massive suffering to Yemenis. It has recently ground to a halt, with neither side able to achieve decisive gains, but a political settlement remains elusive. Questions have been raised about the use of UK-supplied armaments.

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Following the Houthi capture of Sana’a in September 2014, President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi resigned in January 2015 and was placed under house arrest. After escaping to Aden in February, he rescinded his resignation and declared the Houthi takeover a coup d’état. When the Houthis advanced on Aden, Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia, where he called upon the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) to intervene.

On March 26, a Saudi-led coalition launched airstrikes on Yemen targeting the Houthis and, importantly, allied elements in the army still loyal to previous President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is held largely responsible for the striking success of the Houthi rebellion.

With the war raging on for over a year, the conflict has been labelled by Amnesty International as the “Forgotten War”.  What attention the conflict has attracted in the UK is largely due to the deteriorating humanitarian situation and the sale and use of arms from the UK to Saudi Arabia.

There have been allegations that UK-supplied armaments have been used to commit violations of international humanitarian law and that UK personnel are close to the Saudi-led coalition’s targeting decisions. The UK Government says that it has faith in the UK’s export licensing regime to prevent that from happening, and that UK advisers are not part of the coalition forces but do sometimes advise on how to comply with international humanitarian law.

The UK Government has confirmed the Saudi-led coalition used UK cluster munitions in Yemen. The Defence Secretary told the House on 19 December 2016 the Saudi Government had informed the UK it had used B755 cluster munitions supplied by the UK in the 1980s in an attack on northern Yemen in January 2016. The Saudi Government has said will no longer use the B755 cluster munitions supplied by the UK in the 1980s.

Since the Saudi-led intervention started on 26 March 2015, the Saudis and their allies have managed to push back the Houthis from Aden. However Aden remains far from secure with a number of key officials having been assassinated and the influence of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS/Daesh is growing. Heavy fighting is ongoing around Taiz in the South and Marib, where Taiz until recently was effectively under siege, exacerbating the humanitarian situation there.

There have also been signs of dissent within the Saudi Royal Family and in the country concerning the conduct and cost of the war. The Saudi economy has been greatly affected by the drop in the oil price.

The Saudis and their allies see the conflict as having been instigated and fuelled by Iran, and there is evidence for this. But many analysts see the conflict as being more about domestic Yemeni forces.

For Iran, the conflict is seen as a low cost way of bogging down their Saudi rivals in Yemen. The prospects for peace in the near future seem slim as neither side deems its situation to be weak enough to pursue a settlement, though there has been some progress on pursuing talks.

This paper explores the developments in Yemen since the Saudi-led intervention began, and the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Yemen. It discusses how AQAP and ISIS have benefited from the chaos. It also looks at the UK role in easing the humanitarian situation in Yemen at the same time as providing arms and assistance to the Saudis. Finally it looks at the chances of a peaceful solution to the conflict, the broader Saudi-Iranian rivalry and some likely outcomes in Yemen and the region.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-7184

Authors: Ben Smith; Yago Zayed

Topic: Middle East

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