The parties to Yemen’s messy civil war each have their own agenda, making the conflict hard to resolve. Here are some of these groups and what they want.
In the late 1990s, the Houthi family in far north Yemen set up a religious revival movement involving the Zaydi sect of Shi’ite Islam, which had once ruled Yemen but whose northern heartland had been marginalized.
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. Since seizing the capital, Sanaa, in 2014, the Houthis have relied on parts of the existing bureaucracy to govern. Their strategy is unclear.
Loyalists of the late president Saleh
Ali Abdullah Saleh took power in north Yemen in 1978 and after unification with the south in 1990 he stayed on as president. He joined with tribal power brokers to dominate the country, placing his clansmen in key positions in the army and economy, prompting accusations of corruption. When former allies deserted him during the Arab Spring, forcing him from power, Saleh joined with his former foes, the Houthis, and helped them seize Sanaa. Despite their differences, they ruled much of Yemen together until last year. Then Saleh saw a chance to regain power for his family by turning on the Houthis but was killed trying to flee.When Saleh switched sides, so did some commanders and troops loyal to him. They are now fighting against their former Houthi allies under the late president’s nephew, Tarek, an army general with ties to the United Arab Emirates.
President Hadi’s government
A general in south Yemen before unification, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi sided with Saleh during the brief 1994 civil war. After defeating the separatists, Saleh made Hadi vice president.
When Saleh was forced from power, Hadi was elected to a two-year term in 2012 to oversee a transition to democracy with a new constitution and new elections scheduled for 2014. Hadi has been at odds with key Saudi ally the UAE due to his alliance with the Islamist Islah party. It is seen as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been designated by Riyadh and Abu Dhabi as a terrorist organization.
Hadi’s forces are vying for control of the southern port of Aden, the temporary seat of the government, where the influence of UAE-backed southern separatists has grown.
After independence from Britain, South Yemen became the only Communist country in the Middle East, but it suffered constant infighting. Weakened by that and the collapse of the Soviet Union, it unified with Saleh’s North Yemen in 1990.
As it became clear most power was in northern hands, the old southern leadership tried to secede in 1994, but was swiftly beaten by Saleh’s army, which sacked Aden. Many southerners have complained of increasing economic and political marginalization.
Led by Abu Dhabi-based general Aidaroos al-Zubaidi, the separatists captured the southern ports of Mukalla from al Qaeda and Aden from the Houthis in 2015. They have more than 50,000 fighters, armed and trained by the UAE.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
Set up by members of the global jihadist group who had escaped prison in Yemen and their comrades who fled Saudi Arabia, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula became one of its most powerful branches. It took advantage of Arab Spring chaos to create mini states in remote eastern regions and launched numerous bloody attacks that undermined Hadi’s transitional government.During the civil war, it has carried out attacks against both sides. Any prolonged chaos in Yemen will give it more room to consolidate and plot attacks abroad.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the Arab Coalition
Saudi Arabia regards the Houthis as a proxy for Iran, its greatest regional rival, and it wants to stop Tehran gaining sway in its neighbour Yemen.
The kingdom’s troops have been deployed along the borders and in some Yemeni provinces but it has relied mostly on air strikes against Houthi-held areas. Saudi Arabia has also provided a base in exile for Hadi and logistical support for the ground fighting in northern Yemen.
The UAE, which also backed the 2012 transition plan, is the other main participant in the coalition. It wants to prevent Islamist militancy growing in Yemen and regards the country’s ports as strategically important. The UAE has deployed some ground troops and suffered casualties in the past. It has focused on arming and training tens of thousands of Yemenis, mostly from the southern provinces, to gain influence. The other countries in the coalition have been less closely involved, though Sudan has put some troops on the ground.
Iran and its regional allies
Iran champions the Houthis as part of its regional “axis of resistance”, and the movement has adopted elements of Tehran’s revolutionary ideology. But while Saudi Arabia and its allies accuse Iran of arming and training the Houthis, the extent of the relationship is disputed and Tehran has denied funnelling weapons into Yemen.
Angus McDowall and Aziz El Yaakoubi