Yemen's year of destruction: the Houthi takeover of Sanaa

Yemen's year of destruction: the Houthi takeover of Sanaa
September 21 marks twelve months since Houthi rebels took over Yemen's capital Sanaa, a year that has been marked by conflict, pain and repression.
3 min read
21 September, 2015
Houthi fighters took control of Sanaa in September 2014 [AFP].

In toppling the Yemeni government and attempting to takeover the country, the Houthis have used every method at their disposal since they overran Sanaa on September 21 of last year.

The entry of the Houthis to Sanaa was merely the continuation of the group's ongoing conflicts in the north of the country.

The Houthis displaced the Salafis from Sadah, arguing that their seminaries houses foreigners and were simply al-Qaeda training camps, and followed this up by blowing up their homes and mosques.

After ejecting the Salafis the Houthis moved on to Amran, where, under the pretext of fighting corruption, they took the city, attacking the 310 Armoured Brigade and killed its commander.

After Amran, the Houthis took their supposed fight against corruption to the capital Sanaa.

In apparent anger at a decrease in fuel subsidies – which they implemented themselves once they were in control of the state – the Houthis called for protests, except that these protests were armed.

These armed protesters then joined in with incoming Houthi fighters and renegade Yemeni soldiers loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh to storm the city.

The Yemeni president Abd-Rabbo Mansour Hadi, along with Yemen's political parties, agreed to the Houthis' demands, yet the rebels eventually continued their coup, kidnapping Hadi's chief advisor, attacking and looting state institutions, as well as Hadi's residence, and placing him and his prime minister, Khaled Bahah, under house arrest.

Hadi was then handed the Houthis' new demands, which would have effectively legitimised what was fast becoming a coup.

However, Hadi unexpectedly resigned, along with his government, leaving the Houthis to eventually announce their 'constitutional declaration' and creating a 'revolutionary committee', which they saw as superseding Yemen's state institutions.

Hadi was able to escape the Houthis and flee to Aden, whereupon the Houthis denounced him as a separatist. That was until Hadi emphasised the unity of Yemen, which made the Houthis change their justification for their move towards the south of the country – now it was a battle against 'al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group (IS, formerly ISIS).

The Houthi push towards Yemen's south pressed Saudi Arabia and its allies into action, and, on March 26, they began Operation Decisive Storm, striking Houthi and Saleh targets across the country.

The air raids have been far from clinical, resulting in civilian casualties, but they have put the Houthis on the back foot.

The Houthi response has been to continue their military attacks on their opponents across the country, and the kidnapping of civilians, including activists, journalists and political leaders. Their shelling of civilian areas has led to countless deaths in Aden and Taiz.

Freedom of the press has also taken a hit from the Houthis. They have blocked numerous local and foreign news websites that were not loyal to them, as well as closing down newspapers and television stations.

Houthi militiamen have aggravated the humanitarian situation by cutting off electricity and water, not complying with any humanitarian truce, hampering humanitarian aid and stealing it along with medicine and fuel to distribute to areas loyal to them, as well as selling it on the black market for exorbitant prices.

When the Saudi-led coalition aircraft was bombing the Houthis, their response was to indiscriminately shell residential areas and to fire randomly from city centres using mortar shells, to confuse the 'resistance' on the frontlines.

When the Houthis needed reinforcements, they rushed to make ceasefire agreements, then quickly broke these agreements as soon as their reinforcements and support arrived.

Now, a year on from their fateful entrance to Sanaa, the city stands at the verge of another battle, this time with the exiled government's forces and coalition troops.

That fight could be even more deadly than all that has happened in the last year.