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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
04SANAA1771
2004-07-26 17:00:00
SECRET
Embassy Sanaa
Cable title:  

SA'DA FIGHTING: UPDATE AND IMPLICATIONS

Tags:   PREL  PTER  PGOV  KISL  YM  COUNTER  TERRORISM  DOMESTIC  POLITICS 
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This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
						S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 SANAA 001771 

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/25/2014
TAGS: PREL PTER PGOV KISL YM COUNTER TERRORISM DOMESTIC POLITICS
SUBJECT: SA'DA FIGHTING: UPDATE AND IMPLICATIONS

REF: A. SANAA 1686

B. SANAA 1663

Classified By: CDA NABEEL KHOURY FOR REASONS 1.5 (A AND D).

--------------------
Summary and Comment:
--------------------

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 SANAA 001771

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/25/2014
TAGS: PREL PTER PGOV KISL YM COUNTER TERRORISM DOMESTIC POLITICS
SUBJECT: SA'DA FIGHTING: UPDATE AND IMPLICATIONS

REF: A. SANAA 1686

B. SANAA 1663

Classified By: CDA NABEEL KHOURY FOR REASONS 1.5 (A AND D).

--------------
Summary and Comment:
--------------


1. (S) After an estimated 400-500 deaths, a large number of
injured on both sides and roughly 400 al-Houthy supporters
detained, the fighting in the Sa'da region in the north of
Yemen remains inconclusive. A cease-fire was recently
announced by the Government but non-official accounts
indicate that the fight continues. Rumors abound concerning
the role of the tribes in the region, the fate of al-Houthy
himself and the possible spread of the fighting beyond the
Merran mountains into the urban areas of Sa'da. The ROYG has
accused al-Houthy of having procured foreign connections and
funding and would have us believe that this is, therefore, a
fight against international terrorism. Post cannot verify
such claims nor justify such a conclusion. Nevertheless, the
conflict has developed into a major test of the state's
ability to exert its authority and crush a rebellion that, in
the eyes of many here, has already caused rifts that could
lead to serious sectarian and/or tribal strife. (Comment: It
is not in the U.S. interest to allow President Saleh to be
personally humiliated in this fight nor the state
institutions to become weakened as a result of it). End
summary and comment.

--------------
Origins of the conflict:
--------------


2. (S) Per ref(a), al-Houthy's provocations date back two
years when his lectures/sermons turned more radical and
lambasted the government for its "encouragement of foreign
invaders." al-Houthy's sloganeering (death to America, death
to Israel) led to demonstrations against the U.S. which
resulted in the arrest of some of his supporters. Having
first supported al-Houthy's break with the Islamist al-Haq
party and the formation of a new "Shabab al-Mou'mineen" (The
Believing Youth) group, our contacts and interlocutors differ
on what led to President Saleh's about-face with al-Houthy.
Many refer to a presidential visit last year to Sa'da while

enroute to performing "Omra" in Mekka. It is said that Saleh
was practically turned away from speaking at a local mosque
with anti-American and anti-Israeli chants. Other stories
speak of a confrontation between al-Houthy and the Governor
of Sa'da in which Saleh took the side of his Governor and
ordered the arrest of al-Houthy. Some say al-Houthy was
simply "invited" to appear before Saleh, an offer which he
turned down, precipitating a confrontation with the soldiers
who were dispatched to escort al-Houthy to Sanaa.

-------------- --------------
al-Houthy's movement: Sectarian or ideological in nature?
-------------- --------------


3. (S) The ROYG would have us believe that they are engaged
in a fight against international terrorism because of
al-Houthy's purported regional connections. Saleh has
personally described al-Houthy's "rebellion" as inspired by
Iran. His ministers have endorsed this view but have also
pointed at times to possible support from Saudi Arabia. The
Saudi Government has recently issued a statement denying any
involvement and supporting Saleh in his quest to restore law
and order in Sa'da. Iran has also distanced itself from
al-Houthy (FM Qirbi received a phone call to that effect from
the Iranian ambassador to Sanaa while he was at lunch with
Ambassador and DCM last week. The Iranian ambassador promised
a statement but we have not yet seen it). Regardless of
claims and counter claims, we have not seen any intelligence
confirming al-Houthy's alleged links to international
terrorism or to official Iranian support. Further,
conversations with the moderate Islamist party, al-Islah,
have revealed a very strong distaste by this Sunni movement
to what they describe as a Shia (Zaidi) rebellion. The
socialist YSP, although critical of Saleh for rushing into an
armed conflict, have also described al-Houthy's movement as
sectarian and a potential threat to national unity. Saleh and
his ministers, in fact, unselfconsciously refer to al-Houthy
supporters as Shia, indicating that they think of them as a
religious rather than a political faction. Several
independent interlocutors have referred to the Zaidis as
ardent believers, still, in the return of the Imamate under
Zaidi control and on that bases reject the legitimacy of the
republic.

--------------
What's at stake for the ROYG?
--------------


4. (S) Regardless of the origins of this fight and of any
possible outside connections for al-Houthy, the confrontation
between him and President Saleh has taken on a dynamic of its
own with serious consequences for both sides. Several hundred
al-Houthy followers are currently in Sanaa jails. They are
reportedly being "interviewed" by Supreme Court Judge
al-Hitar who has thus far failed to persuade any of them to
denounce al-Houthy. Should al-Houthy fall into government
hands, the Government intends to charge him with serious
crimes against the state, but promises a fair trial. This, of
course, provided he survives his capture. Despite continued
talk of mediation efforts, for Saleh, the al-Houthy rebellion
has lasted too long and cost too many lives to allow for a
negotiated settlement. The challenge is not only personal for
the president, it has also put the prestige of the state on
the line. If al-Houthy, reportedly with some tribal support
(jealous over their turf being trampled by the government),
can evade the arm of the law with impunity it would set a
very bad precedent for other Zaidis and possibly tribes and
political factions around the country who may also entertain
questions regarding the legitimacy of the republic. Religious
strife between Sunnis and Zaidis may also, according to some
local observers, be a dangerous outcome of a failure to
suppress al-Houthy's movement. Such scenarios cannot but ring
alarm bells for the Saleh regime at a time when he is
desperately trying to promote Yemen as a partner to the U.S.
and the European countries in development and democratization
projects in the Middle East. Saleh has personally asked us,
the French and the Saudis for public statements of support
for his government in its confrontation with al-Houthy.

--------------
What's at stake for the USG?
--------------


5. (S) Pending further information, post cannot confirm or
rule out any links of al-Houthy to international terrorism.
That said, al-Houthy's rhetoric and behavior are dangerous
for internal stability and for U.S. interests in Yemen and
the region. Antipathy for the U.S. is clearly very strongly
felt by al-Houthy and his followers. Further, a failure to
bring the al-Houthy movement under control would risk having
the Sa'da region wriggle out of the central government's
control and would encourage tribes in the region to assert
their own rejection of the state's writ in their areas. the
Saleh government, for all its shortcomings, has committed
itself to fighting regional terrorism and to implementing
political and economic reforms in cooperation with the USG
and the EU. A discredited and weakened regime would not be
able to follow through on such commitments.

--------------
Policy Comment:
--------------


6. (S) Whereas U.S. assistance to Yemen on the social,
political and economic fronts has been substantial and
unabashed, assistance on the military front (particularly as
related the recent Sa'da fighting) has been more low key and
low-profile. This, in our view, is as it should be, given the
balancing act Saleh has to perform in cementing his ties with
the west while retaining the posture of the leader of an
independent and sovereign country. Our support also needs to
drive a balance between supporting stability and security
without encouraging the rash use of force while disregarding
human rights and the rule of law.
End comment.
KHOURY