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Sa'dah al-Houthi Rebellion in Yemen



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Sa'dah Insurgency (2004-2010) [also known as the al-Houthi Rebellion]---The Sa'dah insurgency began in June of 2004 with a rebellion led by the Shiite cleric Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, head of the Shi‘a Zaidiyyah sect. Most of the fighting has taken place in Sa'dah Governorate (province) in northwesternmost Yemen.

The Yemeni government claims that Shiite rebels seek to overthrow the government and to implement Shi‘a religious law over the whole nation. The rebels deny this and say that they are protecting themselves agains government persecution and discrimination . The Yemeni government has accused the Shiite government of Iran of aiding and financing the rebels.

From June to August 2004, government troops battled supporters of al-Houthi in the north. Estimates of the dead range from 80 to more than 600. In September of 2004, Yemeni forces killed al-Houthi. After his death, his brother, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi assumed leadership of the rebellion.

On May 21, 2005, the government released estimates on the cost of the war, announcing that 552 deaths, 2,708 injures, and over $270 million in economic damages had occurred.

In February of 2007, the Yemeni military began a major offensive against the al-Houthi rebels. This offensive involved nearly 30,000 government troops, and by February 19, casualties included nearly 200 members of the security forces and over 100 rebel dead. Within the next two weeks, the government claims to have killed another 160 rebels in fighting.

A ceasefire agreement was reached on June 16, 2007, but it did not last, as fighting continued in April 2008, when seven Yemeni soldiers died in a rebel ambush on April 29. On May 2, 15 worshippers were killed and 55 wounded in an explosion at a mosque in Sa'adah. The blast occurred as crowds of people left Friday prayers at the Bin Salman Mosque. The government blamed the rebels for the bombing, but Houthi's group denied being responsible.

Al-Qaida in Arabia, the local branch of Osama bin Laden's world-wide Jihadist organization, is also active in northern Yemen, and some analysts believe some of the more terrorist-like attacks, such as mosque bombings, and killings of foreigners, are likely the work of the Sunni al-Qaida group.

The Yemeni government began a major offensive against the al-Houthi rebels in August, 2009, in an operation called Operation Scorched Earth. While the al-Houthi rebels do not possess aircraft or armored vehicles, they do enjoy a tactical advantage in their war against the government. With an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 armed fighters, and a training system eminiscent of Hezballah training regimen in Lebanon, the rebels are a potent fighting force, especially as they are fighting on their home territory. They also show a skillful use of land mines, which exact a painful toll on government forces and makes army ground movement difficult and dangerous.

In November of 2009, the Sa'ada insurgency took on an alarming new dimension, as Saudi Arabia openly intervened to aid the Yemeni government with air strikes and artillery barrages on Shiite rebels. Analysts see the Saudi participation partly as a pre-emptive strike to prevent the war from actually spreading into Saudi territory, but also as a move against Iran, which is believed to be aiding the rebels. Saudi Arabia and Iran have engaged in a long-running proxy conflict in the Gulf region, in the Iraqi civil war, and also in Lebanon, where Iran backs Hezbollah, and the Saudis support the Lebanese government.

In November of 2009, the al-Houthi rebels moved across the border into Saudi Arabia, thereby provoking Saudi military intervention. See Saudi-Yemen Border Conflict (2009) for more information on the Saudi intervention.

Negotiations between the rebels and the government, along with continued military pressure from Yemeni and Saudi forces, led to a cease-fire in the north, and in March, 2010, President Ali Abdullah Saleh declared that the war was over. Evidence of this included the removal of land mines by the rebels, as well as mutual prisoner releases.

Links and Resources:


Yemen war with Shi'ite rebels is over: president--Washington Post, March 20, 2010

Small War or Big Problem? Fighting on the Yemeni-Saudi Border--The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Nov. 11, 2009

Yemen Conflict Triggers Flood of Refugees, UN Says (Update1) --Bloomberg, Nov. 11, 2009

Saudi Arabian fighter jets resume pounding Shia rebels' positions in Yemen --The Times of India, Nov. 6, 2009


Displacement mounting amid Yemeni, June 17, 2009

Yemeni Rebels Kill Baptist Hospital Workers--War and Conflict Journal, June 16, 2009

3 foreign hostages found dead in Yemen, LA Times, June 15, 2009

British engineer among nine foreigners feared murdered in Yemen—, June 15, 2009

Hostages in Yemen Found Dead??!! Update: Six Alive??!!----Armies of Liberation, June 15, 2009

Waq al-Waq

Jane Novak's Yemen Articles

Wars of Yemen (1914-Present)

YEMEN: Rebellion in north causing psychological problems, say aid workers --IRIN, Sept. 27, 2007


Please cite this source when appropriate:

Lee, R. "Sa'dah al-Houthi Rebellion in Yemen (2004-Present)"

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