Yemen and the idea of fighting ISIS

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) carried out another suicide bombing in Aden, killing more than 60 fighters loyal to the legitimate government. This is part of a series of terrorist operations that ISIS is carrying out there with its sister organization al-Qaeda.

The fighting clarifies the nature of alliances in the Yemen war. The rebel Houthis, supporters of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, al-Qaeda and ISIS are in one camp, against that of the legitimate government, loyalist tribes and the Saudi-led Arab military coalition.

The US State Department said the bloody operation in Aden “underscores the urgency of a full and comprehensive settlement that will shrink the political and security vacuum that has been created by the ongoing civil war. In the absence of a political solution, we remain concerned that [ISIS] and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula will continue to take advantage of the instability.”

There is no dispute that chaos nurtures terrorist groups, and that a political solution is the best option for Yemen and for all the fighting parties. However, giving in to the Houthis and Saleh, and handing them governance or allowing them to stay as an independent and influential power through any future agreement, will pose greater threats.

A political solution is the best option for Yemen and for all the fighting parties. However, giving in to the Houthis and Saleh will pose greater threats

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

For two years now, al-Qaeda and ISIS have targeted and attacked the legitimate government. They dealt in the past with Saleh’s government, and continue to deal with him as well as the Houthis until today. Even before the war, most al-Qaeda operations that were planned inside Yemen and targeted the US and Europe were exposed and thwarted by Saudi security forces, which handled the task of pursuing the organization during past years.

During the past 12 months, the terrorist organizations have mainly targeted Emirati and Saudi forces in Yemen, and have tried to kill Yemeni government officials in the temporary capital Aden. The terrorist groups have played an influential role in obstructing coalition forces allied with the legitimate government, systematically targeting them in areas liberated from Saleh and the Houthis.

Political solution

There is an alliance between the terrorist groups and the rebels, so a political solution must not reward Saleh and the Houthis with great influence, otherwise they will enable terrorists to again attack the legitimate government to weaken it and dominate the state’s other pillars.

Saleh did so in the 1990s against his rivals in the unity government of the newly established republic of Yemen. He planned the assassination of dozens of South Yemen leaders, using extremist Islamists for that purpose. He repeated using al-Qaeda in the past 10 years, something the US refused to believe until it gathered a huge amount of information linking him to the group and revealed Saleh’s plans to attack his Yemeni rivals.

ISIS and al-Qaeda know that the Houthis and Saleh are their best allies in any solution, because those fighting the terrorist groups in Yemen today are Saudi and Emirati forces, and US forces that depend on drones.

Now the US wants a peaceful solution more because it is the best option. This is true, but it must not come at the expense of the solution that the UN adopted, which is based on holding elections, not on quotas that give the Houthis and Saleh seats and more influence just because they carry arms. The concept of quotas, which Iran promotes in Iraq and Lebanon, sabotaged these countries and led to the chaos we see there today.

If the threat of al-Qaeda and its sisters in Yemen is the main motive behind American enthusiasm, they must adopt the concept of one strong central state that can fight terrorism, instead of allowing the establishment of a state of militias, which is currently being proposed under the name of reconciliation.


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