Foreign Policy Blogs

Arhab: The Northern Frontline of the Yemeni Revolution

 

Over the past few weeks, the Yemeni government has been pounding the village of Arhab, which is situated on the northern outskirts of the capital, Sana’a.

As a result, thousands of villagers have had to flee the war zone and seek refuge in the neighboring mountains; hoping that they will be able to return to their homes soon. Forced to camp out in the harsh wilderness of the northern Yemeni mountains, with no water, no electricity and very little food, these families have experienced the cruelty of the Saleh Regime in all its glory.

And while journalists and analysts prefer to concentrate on southern Yemen and the terrorist threat, Arhab has been left to endure its fate, ignored by a world that does not understand that this village holds the key to the toppling of the Regime.

Why Arhab?

Arhab is situated about 20 kilometers north of Sana’a, in direct line to its international airport and near the most important Republican Guard base in the region.

Arhab is also the hometown of Sheikh al-Zindani, a man who was branded a terrorist by the Americans some years ago. Zindani has always been a fervent detractor of the Regime, often virulently attacking President Saleh for his policies. Up until now, the government chose to ignore the cleric, aware that an attack on his person would ignite the fury of his faithful tribesmen and ultimately lead to an open armed conflict with his supporters.

Because if Zindani is a powerful Sheikh; he is also an influential cleric and a senior leader of al-Islah party. In other words, he is not someone one can afford to dismiss easily.

However, since the Sheikh announced that he was siding with the pro-democracy movement and that he would use his men to protect the Revolution, the regime decided that it was time to silence him.

Arhab tribesmen have for months now been preventing government troops from reaching the capital, hoping to hinder the regime’s plan to attack “Change Square” and squash the Revolution.

Despite the regime’s best efforts, its troops were no match in comparison to the determination of the tribesmen. With as much fire power as any conventional army, those defenders of the Revolution proved to be a force to be reckoned with.

Arhab poses a great threat to the regime. If the tribe was ever to take over the Republican Guard’s base, situated near the airport, it would mean that most of the regime’s capacity to defend itself would lie in ruins. Many high ranking officers fear that it would trigger waves of defections, unraveling the last thread of the Saleh Empire.

And if many of you wondered why the government was not concentrating its efforts on Abyan, it is because the region is not of vital importance. The regime can afford to lose Abyan or even Aden for a while; Sana’a is where all will be gained or lost.

Government Propaganda

On Thursday the 28th, Arhab men led an armed offensive against the 3rd Brigade’s camp, which directly overlooks Sana’a airport. After weathering the government’s relentless attack on their village, the tribesmen decided that a direct offensive against the army would be their best defense.

Under the leadership of Sheikh al-Zindani and Mansour al-Hanaiq, hundreds of their best fighters pounced on the base, using heavy artillery.

A military source claimed that the tribe was using missiles belonging to the defected 1st Armored Brigade, allowing it to truly challenge the fire power of the Republican Guard. The regime is growing concerned over the fact that its opponents are using each passing day to their advantage.

The tribesmen infiltrated the base by using the drainage network, taking by surprise the troop stationed in the base and inflicting heavy casualties.

Many Republican Guards present during the attack admitted under the cover of anonymity that most of the men there were new recruits, poorly trained and incapable of defending themselves adequately.

Although the tribesmen did not manage to successfully take control over the base, they proved that they were quite capable of taking on the million dollar, American trained Republican Guard.

The government is now trying to put a spin on the whole debacle, claiming that the armed men were jihadist militants linked to al-Qaeda, operating under the control of Sheikh al-Zindani.

Interestingly enough, whenever the regime is starting to lose its footing it reverts to the “terror card”, hoping to rally around western support.

Apparently, Zindani would be using Afghani war veterans to train its tribesmen and turned them into fully pledged machines of war.

The regime’s military expert, Yehia Rajeh, is also claiming that Arhab is “the” northern stronghold of al-Qaeda in Yemen. I’m pretty sure that the U.S. will be happy to learn that the Yemeni government has finally cracked the mystery that is al-Qaeda. A bit like the chameleon, the terror group pops up under different attires: pro-democracy protesters, tribesmen, defender of democracy, opposition politicians, whenever it best serves Saleh’s agenda.

The Battle for Sana’a

A defected General close to Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar revealed that the latter was organizing trenches around the ground of the University, spreading its men throughout strategic points in Sana’a, gearing up for a military standoff.

Sheikh Sadeeq al-Ahmar followed suit in Hasaba, using the lessons learned in the last attack to secure the area.

Despite the repeated calls for a peaceful transition of power, it seems that Yemen or at least Sana’a is headed for a violent armed conflict. Over the past few weeks, a shift has occurred in the capital. After declaring themselves the “guardians” and “protectors” of the Revolution, the tribes have deflected the government’s attention from the protesters onto them, risking engulfing the capital in a bloody battle. For unlike the protesters who are determined to remain peaceful, the tribes are itching for a fight.

A day only before Ramadan, all parties realize that something needs to happen fast.

 

Author

Catherine Shakdam
Catherine Shakdam

Although French by birth, my studies and my professional life led me to live for many years in the United Kingdom and in the Middle East.
Armed with a Master in Finance, a Bachelor degree in Psychology and 5 languages under my belt I managed to make my way through the maze of the Trading World of Wall Street, as an equity consultant. However, my interest for Politics and the Middle East gave me the necessary push to launch me as a "writer". Since then, I have voiced my opinions via my Blog and various publications such as the Middle East Post, the Guardian UK, and now Foreign Policy Association. I currently live in London.

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