Here’s the latest situation in Yemen this morning.
— Saudi Arabia and its allies launched airstrikes against Shiite Houthi rebels who have seized large parts of Yemen, including the capital, and forced the president to flee the country. The U.S. said late Wednesday it was providing logistical and intelligence support to the military effort by Yemen’s allies.
— Shiite Iran, which backs the Houthis, called the operation “dangerous” and likened it to an invasion.
The Associated Press adds: “The back-and-forth between the regional heavyweights was threatening to turn impoverished Yemen into a proxy battle between the Middle East’s Sunni powers and Shiite-led Iran.”
As NPR’s Jackie Northam reported Wednesday: “The ongoing volatile political and security situation has forced the U.S. to pull all its remaining personnel — civilian, military and intelligence — out of the country. The move could have an impact on U.S counter-terrorism efforts against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, considered one of the most dangerous offshoots of the terror group.”
Others taking part in the Saudi operation include the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain. Egypt announced political and military support. The Saudi Press Agency reported that Pakistan, Jordan, Morocco and Sudan “declared their willingness to participate.”
Here’s the background to the unrest: It began earlier this year when the Houthis took control of Sanaa, dissolved Parliament and seized power. The Houthis wants greater autonomy for the north of Yemen.
Its members are anti-U.S., but are also battling al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. They are also likely to take on the self-described Islamic State. Both AQAP and ISIS are Sunni and regard Shiites as heretics.
Add to this mix regional rivalries. The overwhelming majority of the Gulf states — and indeed the wider Muslim world — is Sunni. Iran, however, is Shiite, and is seen as backing the Houthis.
This worries the region’s Sunni powers, primarily Saudi Arabia, who are already also with alarm Iran’s increasing influence in Iraq as well as Tehran’s negotiations with the West over its nuclear program.
Saudi Arabia previously intervened militarily in Bahrain during anti-government protests, mostly by Shiites, in March 2011.