Yemen was rocked by suicide bombings yesterday, two weeks after Houthi rebels marched on its capital and captured several neighborhoods. As Al Jazeera English reports:
At least 67 people have been killed in twin suicide blasts across Yemen, one targeting a gathering of rebels in the country’s capital and the other a military outpost in the eastern Hadramout province, officials say.At least forty-seven people were killed and 75 others wounded in the capital Sanaa on Thursday, when a suicide bomber targeted Houthi supporters preparing to hold a rally, the Yemeni health ministry said. […]Witnesses told Al Jazeera’s correspondent in the capital that the attack bore the hallmarks of al-Qaeda, although no one had yet to claim responsibility.
A power-sharing ceasefire agreement has allowed mass rallies supporting the rebel group to effectively occupy the rest of the capital. This attack, however, comes less than 24 hours after the Houthis rejected the President’s choice for a new Prime Minister. The Financial Times details the crisis President Hadi faces:
Mr Hadi’s position is made more difficult by the fact that the General People’s Congress, the parliamentary bloc he leads, has also rejected Mr Mubarak’s appointment. Mr Hadi is secretary-general of the GPC, which has half the seats in the caretaker government.While the GPC’s rejection of his choice of candidate is a blow to the president’s credibility, a source with links to both Mr Mubarak and Mr Hadi told the Financial Times that it would be politically impossible for the president to reverse his decision without further weakening his position. […]Yet the alternative – a return to fighting – could push the country into civil war, analysts believe. Mr Hadi is understood to have been told by his national security advisers that a military victory against the Houthis is in effect impossible.
This crisis puts the United States at the intersection of three groups vying for power in Yemen, and the struggle has huge strategic ramifications for the U.S. position there. The first is al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which the United States has been fighting, with the cooperation of the central government in Yemen, for much of the past decade. President Obama has cited the American strategy in fighting AQAP as an example to follow in Iraq and Syria: a reliance on drones and airstrikes that hasn’t yet resulted in American casualties. That AQAP apparently was able to carry out coordinated suicide bombings, killing a large number of civilians, soldiers, and militiamen in two cities, demonstrates that it remains a significant threat to stability there.The second is the government of President Hadi, which has been a partner (if not an ally) in U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Both the United States and Saudi Arabia have backed Yemen’s government with billions of dollars in cash and weapons. If the government’s split over Hadi’s choice of a Prime Minister escalates into a larger internal conflict, our position in Yemen could become increasingly tenuous.The Houthis, finally, may have the strongest position of all. Occupying much of the capital, heavily armed, and backed with Iranian weapons and cash, they have considerable power to decide what happens next.It’s far from clear that Yemen will fall into a sectarian civil war, as did Syria, but the major regional players seem to poised to fight it out if it does. Once again, the United States seems stuck in a Middle Eastern power struggle, without friends and struggling to find the least bad option.