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Yemen’s Fault Lines

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Yemen’s war began in 2014 with a clash provoked by fuel subsidies. Today, it’s a conflict that’s devastated the poorest Arab country and become a source of contention between Saudi Arabia and the United States, which support the country’s internationally recognized government against Iran-backed Houthi rebels. The journey between those points is the story of a country torn both by internal divisions and the interests of outside parties. Caught in a broader struggle between rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, it’s become the site of one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters.

Saudi officials, who began a bombing campaign in Yemen in 2015, say they are keen to find a way out of the war, which is costly and damaging to the kingdom’s international reputation. Its main ally in the war, the United Arab Emirates, started exiting the conflict in 2019. And in early 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden announced an end to U.S. support for Saudi offensive operations in Yemen. That followed a decision to pause the sale of smart-bomb technology to the kingdom, whose campaign in Yemen has been widely criticized for disproportionately affecting civilians. The Houthis, who’ve been accused of the same, have stepped up their attacks inside Saudi Arabia, which borders Yemen to the north, launching ballistic missiles and explosive-laden drones that the kingdom says are supplied by Iran. Militarily, the Houthis control the capital of Sana’a and other territories in the country’s northwest. East of Sana’a, they are battling government forces for the oil- and gas-rich province of Marib. In the destabilized south, the government has a seat in the city of Aden, but the city is controlled by a southern separatist group. The violence has devastated ordinary Yemenis, who say that between airstrikes, economic collapse and growing starvation, life has become almost unbearable. The United Nations estimates that 233,000 people have died in the war and millions have been displaced. In March, protesters stormed the presidential palace in Aden, demanding delivery of basic services like electricity.