With Death of Ali Abdullah Saleh, Need for Yemen Peace Grows

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Houthi fighters in the Yemen capital on Monday outside the home of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was killed by rebels.

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Mohammed Huwais/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A master of the deadly game of Middle Eastern power politics, Ali Abdullah Saleh was at the heart of Yemen’s endless internal struggles for almost four decades, until he played one hand too many and was killed by his foes on Monday.

Mr. Saleh had once run the country as a virtual dictator before the Arab Spring uprisings forced him, in 2012, to cede power to his second in command, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi. But the “national dialogue” that was to follow fell apart, and a resistance movement that came to be known as the Houthi took control of Yemen’s northern regions and eventually the capital city, Sana. Mr. Saleh hooked up with the Houthis, but then, quite recently, abandoned them. Now his life has been cut short — in an ambush, according to the Houthis. Who will take his place, or what his followers will do, is far from clear. But this could be a chance for all sides to pause and reflect.

Yemen desperately needs a break. It was already among the poorest lands in the Middle East when civil war erupted three years ago, and today it is in the throes of a humanitarian nightmare of cholera, famine and destruction. The tragedy is not one that fits into a simple narrative of good guys and bad guys, but what is clear is that any chance of peace must involve an end to Saudi Arabia’s destructive bombing and the Trump administration’s support for it. That means a change of policy by Saudi Arabia’s hard-driving young crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and a measure of responsibility from whoever is handling Middle East policy in the White House.

To Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states, the Houthis were a Shiite threat backed by Riyadh’s great regional enemy, Iran, even though the movement was more tribal than religious and there is little evidence that Tehran provided major support. Nonetheless, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries began an air campaign in 2015 intended to restore Mr. Hadi’s government, with logistical and intelligence support from the United States, along with Britain and France. Between them, the Saudi coalition and the Houthis have fostered a humanitarian crisis: at least 10,000 dead, three million displaced, acutely…

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