Killing of Ali Abdullah Saleh changes dynamics of Yemen’s civil war

The Guardian reports: The killing of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the former Yemeni president, removes the country’s most important political figure for four decades from a complex equation that has plunged the Arab world’s poorest nation into conflict and sparked the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

His death marks a dramatic shift three years into a war in a state of stalemate. It risks the conflict becoming even more intractable.

Saleh was an important player in Yemen’s descent into civil war. His reluctant departure from power in 2012 – forced upon him by the Arab spring after 33 years of rule – brought his Saudi-backed deputy, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, into office.

But in 2014 Saleh forged an uneasy, unlikely alliance with his former enemies, the Houthis, to facilitate their takeover of Sana’a and ultimately to force Hadi to flee to Saudi Arabia.

It was an alliance doomed to fail, but few predicted the man who sided with the rebels he fought six wars against between 2004 and 2011 would eventually be killed by them.

While it lasted, the alliance benefited both sides. Saleh used Houthi firepower and manpower, while the rebels gained from Saleh’s governing and intelligence networks.

In the past week, that equation changed as Saleh moved to increase his power in Sana’a and signalled that he was swapping sides, seeking a dialogue with the Saudis and their allies, including the United Arab Emirates. There were reports that Saudi bombing of Sana’a in recent days was targeting Houthi areas in a move to help Saleh – but that did little to prevent the rebels killing him.

Without Saleh, the Houthis are strengthened – at least in the short term. “There’s a possibility that [Saleh’s] apparatus will be radically weakened, if not marginalised in the coming period; this leaves the Houthis as the key power in northern Yemen,” said Adam Baron, visiting fellow at European Council on Foreign Relations. [Continue reading…]

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