Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Yemeni Cleric Blames the Iranian Regime for War

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A leading Yemeni religious leader has accused Iran of inciting violence in the north of the country, where a predominantly Shia Muslim group is waging a war against the government. Sheikh Abdul Majid al-Zandani, the head of Yemen's Imam University, told supporters that Tehran was trying to promote the Shia ideology in the country by backing the Houthi fighters. "The way events are moving in this country latest indicates to us that Iran wants to export the Shia ideology by force, which we utterly reject," al-Zandani said. Fighters from the Houthi group, named after its leader, have been battling the predominantly government forces in Saada province since 2004. The military launched a major offensive - dubbed Operation Scorched Earth - in the north on August 11 in an attempt to crush the group. The conflict has divided the predominantly Sunni nation, with many demanding that it be resolved quickly as it has claims an increasing number of lives and drains the country's resources. "I hope wise Sunnis and Shias will hold dialogue, determine what they have agreed on and work according to it, and determine what they have disagreed on and refer these disputes to their prominent scholars to give a final decision on them," al-Zandani said. "Let them work according to what they have agreed on, and set policies for whatever they disagree on. But to doubt our religion, doubt our beliefs, pull our students, sons and people to their side and turn them against us, encourage them to carry weapons to kill us! This is rejected." Dr Mahjoob Zweiri, the head of the Iran studies unit at the university of Jordan, said that claims of Iranian involvement in the conflict were being exaggerated. "Since about 2003 there has been a trend in Middle East politics that any civil conflict in the region which has relation with Shia or Islamists is being related to Iran," he told Al Jazeera from Amman.

"Iran has a shortage of tools to control such a situation, but there is, however, support in terms of sympathy. "The issue of Saada needs to be looked at in a Yemeni context, in a tribal context. I think that bringing the issue of Wahabbis [a Sunni sect dominant in Saudi Arabia] and Shia to the matter is complicating the matter, not solving it." Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president and a member of the Zaidi sect who make up the Houthis, has repeatedly vowed to defeat the fighters. "The government is resolved to end the unrest and reinforce security and stability in Saada province in order to focus on development and reconstruction," the Saba state news agency quoted him as telling troops heading north. "The war was imposed on the government by those renegades." Arab governments have supported Sanaa's effort to crush the Houthis. "We reject... any kind of rebellion and we reject any foreign interference [in Yemen]. Egypt is wholly supporting - with all its power and capabilities - its sister Yemen," Ahmed Abul Gheit, Egypt's foreign minister, said on Sunday. Prince Ahmad bin Abdul Aziz, the Saudi deputy interior minister, said that Riyadh was co-operating with Sanaa in its battle against the Houthis, but dismissed allegations that the Saudi air force was involved in air raids as "absolutely not true". The fighting in the rugged mountainous north has sent thousands of people fleeing from their homes, with the United Nations putting the total at around 55,000 displaced because of the conflict. On Sunday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said that it expects to send a convoy of relief goods within days to the displaced.