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Who are Yemen’s Houthis?

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Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement has been battling a Saudi-led military coalition since 2015. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday Congress would be notified of his intent to designate the movement as a foreign terrorist organization, in what would be one of the final acts of the outgoing Trump administration before Joe Biden’s inauguration as president on Jan. 20.

Here are some details about the group, also known as Ansar Allah.


* In the late 1990s, the Houthi family in far north Yemen set up a religious revival movement for the Zaydi sect of Shi’ite Islam, which had once ruled Yemen but whose northern heartland had became impoverished and marginalised.

* As friction with the government grew, they fought a series of guerrilla wars with the national army and a brief border conflict with Saudi Arabia.


* They built ties with Iran, but it is not clear how deep that relationship goes. The Saudi-led coalition accuses Iran of arming and training the Houthis, a charge both deny. The coalition also says Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah is helping the Houthis, an accusation it rejects.

* While Iran champions the Houthis as part of its regional “axis of resistance”, Yemen experts say they are motivated primarily by a domestic agenda though they share a political affinity for Iran and Hezbollah. The Houthis deny being puppets of Iran and say they are fighting a corrupt system.


* The Houthis joined a wider national uprising in 2011 against the rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was persuaded by Gulf states to step down.

The group later partnered with their erstwhile foe to seize the capital Sanaa in 2014 and oust the Saudi-backed government. Saleh was killed by the group in 2017 when he switched sides.

* After the Saudi-led coalition intervened in 2015, the Houthis and Saleh’s forces were driven from Aden and its environs in south Yemen, and from central Marib.

Years of military stalemate have followed, with the Houthis maintaining their hold on Sanaa and most big urban centres.


* Despite years of coalition air strikes against them, the Houthis continue to launch drones and missiles towards Saudi cities. The Houthis, who took over swathes of Yemen’s conventional military, say they are manufactured domestically.

U.N. investigators said in a report this year that the Houthis receive military support in the form of arms and that some of those weapons have technical characteristics similar to arms manufactured in Iran.

* The Houthis have hundreds of thousands of fighters under their control.

Main Photo: Houthi fighters carry RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenade launchers in Sana’a, Yemen. EPA/YAHYA ARHAB

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