CSP, By Kyle Shideler:
The New York Times wrote on Friday offering a brief glimpse at an underreported front in inter-Islam civil war currently spreading across the Middle East:
Yemen’s Shiite rebels on Friday overran an al-Qaida stronghold after days of battling the militants for the city in the country’s central heartland, a Yemeni official and a tribal leader said. The capture of the city of Radda, in the in the province of Bayda, came with the help of a Yemeni army commander, the two said. The Shiite rebels known as Houthis have been fighting both al-Qaida militants and Sunni tribes over the past few days. The rebels, who in September gained control of the capital, Sanaa, earlier this week overran a key Yemeni port city on the Red Sea.
The action, mirrored similar instances in the past when units in Yemen’s army suspected of links with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a Houthi ally, facilitated stunning rebel advances from their home base in northern Saada province. The army commander who helped the Houthis in Radda is said to be a loyalist of the ousted Saleh, who was deposed after the country’s 2011 uprising. Saleh and his party have joined ranks with the Houthis against a common enemy — the Islamist Islah party and its allied tribe of Al-Ahmar, traditional power brokers in Yemen.
Also Friday, fierce clashes erupted in Ibb province, nearly 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Sanaa between the Houthis and tribesmen allied with the Islah party, leaving eight dead, according to other security officials in the province.
The Islah Party is Yemen’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. It’s co-founder is Abdul_Majeed al-Zindani, who is a specially designated global terrorist, and an original spiritual mentor of Osama Bin Laden.
President Obama referred to Yemen and Somalia as models of success to be emulated in Syria. And while my CSP colleague Nik Hanlon handedly covered the problems with the Somalia comparison, Yemen is indeed an apt model for comparison, although not in the way meant by the President. In Yemen the struggle is between Shia militia fighters- backed by Iran and on behalf of a President who was ousted in Western -championed Arab Spring- are advancing against the joint forces of Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. The same is true in Syria, where Muslim Brotherhood-linked fighters, such as the Islamic Front, fight side by side with Al Qaeda-linked Ahrar Al-Sham and AQ’s Syrian affiliate Jabhat al Nusra against Iranian IRGC and Shia Militias on behalf of Bashar Assad.
As in Yemen and Syria, so too in Libya, although instead of Iranian-linked Shia, the “counterrevolution” in Libya is led by a former general of Qaddafi’s, Khalifa Haftar, sponsored by Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Egypt in a fight against Al Qaeda’s affiliate Ansar al-Sharia-Libya, and the Muslim Brotherhood-backed militias. The same U.A.E air force that was trumpeted as a partner in the air strikes against ISIS, conducted air strikes against the Libyan rebels with whom the U.S. had partnered against Qaddafi. But then, in this conflict ironies abound, as when Saudi Arabia bombs the “barbaric” ISIS in airstrikes launched in part following the beheading of Americans, while engaging in a rash of beheadings of their own.
Analysts who examine the current situation as a series of national struggles in separate countries have missed the boat entirely. Everywhere across the region, scores are being settled, and battle lines being drawn and redrawn. What is at stake is not just who will be the next leader of Syria, or Libya, or Yemen. It’s who will be represented as the leader(s) of Islam. Will they be Sunni or Shia? Does ISIS represent a Kharijite deviation as the Muslim Brotherhood accuses, or are the Ikhwan a Murji’ah deviation as ISIS concludes? Do they both represent a takfiri deviation, as the governments Saudi, Egypt and U.A.E and their state-sponsored clerics declare or are these same governments the apostate regimes that ISIS/AQ/MB claim them to be?
These are deeply profound doctrinal questions which are being hashed and rehashed in online screeds over the intricacies of Shariah law, but which will ultimately be settled with violence, just as they have been historically settled for hundreds of years.
For our purposes, we should realize that the internecine conflict currently being waged does not mean that any of these forces are ultimately pro-Western or allies to be trusted. The same governments which are fighting ISIS paid for the mosques, staffed by Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated imams, at which the current group of ISIS fighters with Western passports were educated and indoctrinated. The Syrian rebels- including Muslim Brothers, that are fighting Assad and ISIS were also providing security for an Al Qaeda cell- The so-called Khorasan Group- whose purpose was a mass casualty attack on U.S. or allied soil. The Shia militias fighting ISIS on the outskirts of Baghdad were the ones using Iranian-manufactured Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFPs) to kill hundreds of Americans. The Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps leading the defense of Baghdad against ISIS also taught Al Qaeda how to use truck bombs to carry out the U.S. embassy attacks.
And on and on.
The reshuffling of the deck will continue in the Middle East for the time being, and it’s important to track the players, and understand their doctrinal differences and the basis for their conflict. But that is not the same as imagining that one of them represents a trump card for the West to play.