The Yemeni Civil War
The Looming Bloodbath in Yemen

The capital of Yemen, Sana’a, has been in the Saudi-backed coalition’s sights ever since the rebel Houthis were driven out of the southern coastal city of Aden last month—and now the Saudis are poised to try to take it. Reuters reports:

Yemeni government forces intend to launch the battle for Sanaa within two months and steps are already under way to break the grip of Houthi fighters who controlled the capital for nearly a year, said the country’s exiled foreign minister. […]

“(The battle for Sanaa will begin) within eight weeks, God willing. It has really already begun in the resistance within Sanaa, which is mobilizing,” Yemeni Foreign Minister Reyad Yassin Abdulla told Reuters in an interview during a visit to Cairo.

“Many things are happening which will lead to the retaking of Sanaa.”

But just as the Houthis were unable to hold Aden, the South Yemenis are likely to find taking and holding Sana’a—which is in the Houthis’ heartland—not much of a cakewalk. Yemen is in many ways two countries (from 1967-1990, this was officially the case). The Houthis are a mountain-dwelling people from the north, and belong to the Zaidi sect of Shi’a Islam. The population of South Yemen is not, and it’s not surprising the Houthis could not hold the south or its old capital, Aden. But for similar reasons, the Saudi-backed, southern-based coalition will likely have real trouble taking and holding the old capital of the north (and more recently, capital of the united country), Sana’a.

The Saudis can and probably will, however, bomb the city heavily and indiscriminately in supporting the effort, killing lots of innocent people and creating a Biblical-scale humanitarian catastrophe in the process. And given the touchy politics of the Iran deal, the temptation for the White House to go along with the Saudis on this one—or at least stay silent as the epic carnage unfolds—will probably be huge.

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