Houthis' sectarian, Iran-oriented militias strip away Yemen's national identity

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden


Houthi police forces sit in the back of a military vehicle in Sanaa in this file photo from September 17th, 2019. [Mohammed Huwais/AFP]

The Houthis (Ansarallah) have been forming militia groups that are strictly sectarian in nature and oriented towards Iran, pledging allegiance to the Islamic Republic rather than the Yemeni state, Yemeni observers warned.

In contrast, they said, Yemen's standard military oath requires that graduates of military and police academies pledge their allegiance to God and the homeland and to serve the people of Yemen.

Videos circulated by human rights activists show graduates of military and police academies in Houthi-controlled areas chanting sectarian slogans, instead of singing the national anthem, and pledging loyalty to the Houthis and Iran.

Addressing this state of affairs, Minister of Information Muammar al-Eryani warned of Iran's efforts to form sectarian militias that follow the orders of its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

The IRGC seeks to bring Yemen closer into the Iranian fold, he said, and to extend the Iranian regime's influence in the region by controlling shipping lanes abutting Yemeni waters and threatening international peace and security.

Speaking to the media on November 5th, al-Eryani accused the Houthis of indoctrinating new batches of military and security cadets.

He said new graduates had been required to pledge allegiance to Abdul Malek al-Houthi and Iran instead of taking the traditional military oath.

This upends the principles and values of the Republic of Yemen, he said, and can be considered a provocation and a challenge to the Yemeni people.

Through its proxy, the Houthis, Iran has sought to form sectarian militias that owe allegiance to the IRGC and obey its orders, and to establish them as an alternative to the national army and security services, al-Eryani said.

The intention is to implement Iran's policies in the region without regard for the interests of the Yemeni people, he said, in the same way that Hizbullah has sought to subvert the Lebanese state.

In this way Iran seeks to subvert the national identity of the Yemeni people and undermine the traditional co-existence among its various religious groups.

Training camps in Houthi-controlled areas

Researchers and political analysts said the Houthis are using state military institutions to build a sectarian army that owes its allegiance to Iran, under the name of the National Army.

The Houthis have sought to build a regular force, like a state army, that is affiliated with Iran and will protect it against any societal resistance, political analyst Waddah al-Jalil told Al-Mashareq.

In their 2014 coup, he said, the Houthis seized control of state institutions and a large geographical area that is home to a large percentage of Yemen's population.

They have created a militia army, recruiting many child soldiers, that is focused on defending the interests of Iran and implementing the plans of the IRGC.

"Training camps proliferate across Houthi-controlled areas, and include state camps as well as newly established camps, where the Houthis provide ideological and military training for their elements," he said.

In addition to the camps, there are recruitment centres and assembly points in most of the provinces under Houthi control.

"These camps are largely concentrated in Saada province, and to a lesser extent in the neighbouring provinces of Hajjah and Amran, and to a much lesser extent in Sanaa and Dhammar and other provinces under Houthi control," al-Jalil said.

Abaad Centre for Strategic Studies head Abdul Salam Mohammed also pointed to the proliferation of Houthi "sectarian indoctrination centres" and to the group's use of National Army camps.

These recruitment and indoctrination efforts are intended to pave the way for "an IRGC army in Yemen with absolute loyalty to the Wali al-Faqih (Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei)", he told Al-Mashareq.

"Sectarian mobilisation in Yemen is carried out at all levels -- military, cultural, societal and even political -- against the backdrop of an Iranian objective" to build a sectarian state that is loyal to the Islamic Republic, he said.

'Stripping away the identity of society'

It is "very dangerous" to hear cadets at Yemeni military academies and institutes echoing the slogans of the Iranian regime, lawyer and human rights activist Abdul Rahman Berman told Al-Mashareq.

"It will weaken national loyalty among generations, as their loyalty will be to the Houthis and their leader, who owe full allegiance to Iran," he said.

Berman said the Houthis have made Wilayat al-Faqih and the chanting of sectarian slogans "mandatory requirements in all civil and military institutions, universities and mosques".

This will lead to a social rift, he said, "as a result of a weak sense of belonging to the homeland" and the strengthening of sectarian loyalties over and above loyalty to the Yemeni state.

What is happening is a "stripping away of the identity of society", he said.

Political analyst Adel al-Shujaa meanwhile warned of the danger of not standing up to the Houthis' sectarian agenda, noting that they "have turned the areas they control into an open camp, where they recruit followers by all means".

"We must act to stem the danger of this gang and its expansion that is burgeoning every day, and we must have a national project that serves as a bulwark against it," he told Al-Mashareq.

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