The who, where and why of the Yemen conflict

March 23, 2015

Fighting in Yemen flared up over the weekend as Iranian-backed Houthis gained control of the city of Taiz in their battle against the country’s Sunni government and al Qaeda. As this Reuters graphic shows, the group, which effectively deposed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi last year,  controls Sanaa and is battling for the parts of western Yemen that it doesn’t already control.

Yemen’s demographics make it ripe for militant recruitment: 63 percent of the population is under 24, with just a 65 percent literacy rate, and nearly 34 percent unemployment. Twenty-five percent of GDP and 63 percent of government revenue comes from petroleum, so the collapse of oil prices over the past year can’t be helping. 

Many see Yemen’s sectarian strife as a proxy for regional and religious foes Saudi Arabia and Iran, and fear the unrest will spread. “Yemen is sliding into a dark tunnel, which would have serious consequences not only on Yemen but on security and stability in the region, ” warned a group of Gulf Arab security officials. Ironically, the fighting has hurt U.S. operations against al Qaeda in Yemen, as 100 special operations troops engaged in counterterrorism were evacuated over the weekend due to security concerns.

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