CAIRO (AP) — Former Yemeni strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh’s death on hands of his own allies, the Shiite rebels known as Houthis, has put the impoverished nation’s 3-year civil war at a crossroads, and there are several widely differing directions it could now go.
It could mark the beginning of the end for the Iranian-backed Houthis — as their opponents are hoping, trying to forge a force out of Saleh’s angry supporters to assault the rebel-held capital, Sanaa.
Equally, it could show the strength of the Houthis: They easily eliminated the once-mighty Saleh, who had previously ruled Yemen as president for more than 30 years. They also broke the military units loyal to him, leaving his camp in disarray.
That’s a sign of how complicated the conflict is. The fighting has been deadlocked for more than a year. Despite a punishing air campaign, the Saudi-led coalition backing President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi has been unable to gain further ground against the Houthis, who control the north and western part of Yemen, where most of the population lives.
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The war has caused profound misery among Yemen’s 28 million people. More than 10,000 civilians have been killed in fighting and airstrikes; food-supply and medical infrastructure has collapsed, causing a humanitarian emergency of hunger and cholera.
Here is a look at Yemen’s power players, what happened and what could happen next.
Originally a religious movement aimed at reviving Yemen’s Zaidi branch of Shiism, Ansar-Allah, the group’s official name, fought a series of wars against Saleh after his army killed its leader, Hussein Badr Eddin al-Houthi, in 2004. But after Saleh’s fall, he backed the Houthis and they overran the capital in 2014.
Saudi Arabia and its allies say the group is a proxy for Iran, accusing it of providing weapons and missiles, a claim Tehran denies. The Houthi forces are battle-hardened and have a constant supply of new recruits from their heartland in the north. They have emerged as warlords with a powerful, repressive hold, detaining thousands, imposing heavy taxes and engaging in black market business.
During his three decades as president, Saleh built an extensive network of allies among tribes, the military and his political party. His sons and nephews commanded the main military branches. Much of that remained in place after he was forced…