U.S. fears al-Qaeda strengthening positions in Yemen: professor

Politics Materials 17 December 2009 13:47 (UTC +04:00)

Azerbaijan, Baku, Dec. 17 / Trend U. Sadikhova /

The U.S. worries about armed conflicts in northern Yemen between governmental forces and Shiite rebels as Washington fears al-Qaeda strengthening its position and destabilizing Saudi Arabia, Political Science Professor at the U.S. University of Tennesse Loulay Bahry said.

"The U.S. is worried about the situation in Yemen because there are a lot of al Qaida elements, especially refugees from Somalia. There are thousands of Somalian refugees in Yemen and they have al-Qaida elements with them. They sympathize with the Houuthis [Shia rebels]," Bahry told Trend over the phone. 

The commander of the U.S. Central Command, General David Petraeus, in an interview with the Arabic television channel Al Arabiya expressed Washington's support to the Yemeni government in the fight against the Shiite rebel group Huthis. The U.S. support is rendered in the framework of cooperation between the U.S. and its allies in the region, Petraeus said.

However, the Yemeni Husi rebels have waged a multi-year struggle with the central Yemeni government for autonomy, having accused the U.S. of interfering in the armed conflict on the border with Yemen and Saudi Arabia, the Arab news agency ANA reported Monday.

Militants of the Husi group have penetrated into Saudi Arabia and established several bases, and arms and ammunition depots, which resulted in armed clashes between the rebels and the Saudi army in early November, RIA Novosti reported.

In early November U.S. military specialists reportedly arrived in Yemen to train local military personnel.

However, the rebel leaders accuse the U.S. Air Force of partaking in joint air strikes on their positions in the northern Yemeni province of Saada with the Saudi army.

Yemen's Zaidi Shia accuse the Saudi government of discrimination against the Shiite minority. They stand for restoring the Shiite Imamate in the country abolished by the 1962 September Revolution, and call on the formal recognition of their rights.

Petraeus said U.S. ships in the territorial waters of Yemen are intended not only to prevent the import of contraband arms to the rebels, but also to provide security assistance to the Yemeni government and other countries in the region.

Bahry said the U.S. is most concerned about the destabilization of Saudi Arabia, whose security remains vital for the U.S. government in the Gulf.

Although the rebels' actions do not pose a threat to the Saudi government and the country's oil-rich regions, preventing the penetration of rebels linked to al-Qaeda into the territory of the kingdom remains a significant issue for the U.S., Bahry said.

Bahry added that the conflict between the Yemeni government and Shiite rebels has two reasons - the Huthis' dissatisfaction with th eisolation of the Yemeni government and and the desire of the Yemeni government to end to the importation of contraband weapons by Somali refugees.

Such measures are aimed at stabilizing the country to attract the foreign investments required by the Yemeni government, and improve the economic situation in the lone Gulf Arab country without no oil reserves, Bahry said.

The expert added that the cessation of the conflict will only occur if the Yemeni government starts a dialogue with the Huthis.

"Many people think that until the Yemeni government begins a dialogue with the Huthis, this problem will remain unsolved," Bahry said.

Yemen authorities accuse the rebels of seeking to proclaim the theocratic state by violating the constitution. According to the authorities, the rebels terrorize the local population and sabotage the the work of the regional authorities.

The government added that the rebels receive help from Shiite organizations in Iran and Iraq.

However, speaking at a regional conference on Gulf security in Bahrain, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Middle East Security Jeffrey Filtman said the U.S. has no information proving Iran's involvement, the Yemen Post reported.

Filtman said the U.S. does not want to inflate the conflicts to the level of conflicts between varying religious sects.

"It is risky to make mountains out of molehills when it comes to differences between Shiites and Sunnis in Yemen," he said.

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