US slaps sanctions on Iran envoy to Yemen's Houthis

By Al-Mashareq and AFP

Iranian ambassador to Yemen Hassan Eyrlou (L) meets with the chairman of the Houthis' Supreme Political Council in November. [Photo via Mehr News]

Iranian ambassador to Yemen Hassan Eyrlou (L) meets with the chairman of the Houthis' Supreme Political Council in November. [Photo via Mehr News]

The US on Tuesday (December 8th) imposed sanctions on Iran's envoy to Yemen's Houthis (Ansarallah), stepping up pressure as President Donald Trump considers a designation of the militia as a terrorist group.

The Treasury Department designated under counter-terrorism laws Hassan Eyrlou, described by Iran as its ambassador to Yemen, where the Houthis control broad swathes of territory including the capital Sanaa.

"Iran's support for the Houthis fuels the conflict in Yemen and exacerbates the country's instability," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

Through Eyrlou's presence in Yemen, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force (IRGC-QF) "is signaling its intent to increase support to the Houthis and further complicate international efforts to reach a negotiated settlement to the conflict", Pompeo said.

Last month, the military court in Marib began the trial of Eyrlou, a former IRGC officer, who is accused of "espionage, sabotage and participating in hostile actions against Yemenis and the Yemen National Army".

Iran's new ambassador had arrived in Sanaa in mid-October, the first time an Iranian diplomat had been sent to the country in five years. His arrival was met with a wave of popular anger among the Yemeni public.

"After Eyrlou's arrival, a number of assassinations occurred, and then Houthi militias shut down the House of Representatives in Sanaa because they failed to elect a Houthi affiliated with the group as the speaker," Yemeni government employee Abdul Waseh Mohammed told Al-Mashareq.

"They intended to replace the current speaker, who is affiliated with the General People's Congress (GPC)," he said.

Eyrlou's arrival to Sanaa "is clear evidence that the Houthis are communicating closely with Iran", political analyst Waddah al-Jalil told Al-Mashareq.

"Eyrlou's background reveals his work in the IRGC intelligence, so he was appointed to arrange the activities of IRGC-affiliated militias in the region," al-Jalil said, adding that he was responsible for recruiting and supporting Houthi figures.

Tightening the noose on IRGC affiliates

US officials say Iran has provided military support to the Houthis, with which it shares religious ties.

Yemen has been the scene of a humanitarian catastrophe as the war pitting the Saudi-backed government against the Houthis for the last five years has had a heavy toll on civilians including destruction of schools and hospitals.

The Trump administration has already designated the Quds Force as a terrorist organisation and in January killed its commander, Qassem Soleimani, as he visited Iraq.

The administration separately on Tuesday slapped sanctions on Al-Mustafa International University, an Iranian-based institution with affiliates around the world.

The Treasury Department said the university, which has close links with Iran's Shia clerical leadership, had been active in recruiting Pakistanis and Afghans to fight in Syria on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad.

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