Daesh Bombing of Yemen’s Southern Transitional Council Has Wide Ranging Geopolitical Implications

Hours ago, two car bombs exploded in Aden, near the headquarters of Yemen’s Southern Transitional Council. Early reports indicate that there have been multiple civilian fatalities. Daesh has just issued a claim of responsibility through its propaganda networks.

Beyond being ‘just another tragedy’ in a country that has had far more than its share of tragedies in recent years, there is a geopolitical angle that has thus far not been acknowledged.

There are essentially two international narratives about the present conflict, more accurately stated as ‘conflicts’ in Yemen, that dominate the headlines. The first is that Saudi/US narrative which paints the Ansar Allah (aka Houthi) movement as a force for regional instability that is being fed modern weapons by Iran which are then used to target Saudi Arabia, thus protracting the war.

This narrative is blatantly false as a Saudi naval blockade of Yemen means that nothing can get to the country without Saudi permission. Even the UN have at times had difficultly supplying medicines to the Yemeni people for this reason. Surprisingly, few commentators mention this glaringly obvious physical flaw in the Saudi narrative.

Then there is a second narrative which while mostly true, nevertheless has its own flaws. This narrative paints the Houthis as a genuine popular Islamic Resistance movement fighting a Saudi invasion which seeks the total suppression of all Zaydi (a branchof Shi’aism) Yemenis. While it is true that the Houthi movement is a genuine organic movement rather than a proxy movement and that the Saudi aggression against Yemen has brutalised Zaydis as well as others, including Sunni Muslims,  there is another element to the conflict that the ‘Resistance narrative’ leaves out.

In the borders of the former South Yemen, a group called the Southern Movement has long agitated for the restoration of their independent state. The group’s political premise is that when North and South Yemen united in 1990, the North Yemeni politicians who dominated the united state, disproportionately favoured northern regions at the expense of the old south which had been the only fully Marxist-Leninist state in the Arab world.

Today, the Southern Transitional Council (the successor movement to the Southern Movement), has been protesting the Aden based government of President Hadi, a man who claims to be a leader of a united Yemen but who in reality, only rules an area which almost exactly conforms to the pre-1990 borders of South Yemen.

Hadi’s pro-Saudi government ministers were recently ousted after clashes between pro-Hadi security forces and the Southern Resistance Movement, the armed wing of the Southern Transitional Council. Adding to the manifold nature of the conflict, while Riyadh firmly backs Hadi (at least in public), Saudi Arabia’s ally, the UAE, has become a champion of the Southern Transitional Movement, primarily due to the fact that millions in investment from the UAE have poured into the borders of the de-facto ‘South Yemen’ and the UAE has taken the decision to ally itself with a faction that could give it the best return on its investment. While many thought that this would cause consternation between Saudi Arabia and the UAE, thus far, the ‘crisis’ between the major allies in Yemen has been averted, certainly for now.

While the Resistance narrative tends to shy away from the conflicts in Southern Yemen, these conflicts will eventually impact the fatr of the Houthis who control Sana’a. Ideologically, the Southern Transitional Movement is a big tent which includes some mild Islamists, some Salafists, some general secularists and some socialists who look back to the Marxist government of the old South Yemen with fondness. It’s a broad movement to be sure and while it has some elements within it that are hostile to the resistance, it is certainly not an extremest group, not least because it’s goal is not to expand its influence but to solidify its influence in a clearly defined, limited geographical space.

While Daesh could not realistically stand a chance against the Houthis who have more than proved their fighting ability in the former North Yemen, Daesh also realises that a Southern Transitional Council government in the ‘south’ has the potential to create stability in Sunni majority areas, thus drying up the swamp of chaos in which Daesh has attempted to thrive in Yemen.

It is unclear who if anyone gave Daesh the order to set off bombs near Southern Transitional Council headquarters in Aden. Some will jump to the conclusion that it was rogue elements of Hadi’s loyalists which coordinated the attack with ready and willing Daesh terrorists, but it seems highly unlikely that at a time when Hadi needs urgently to win back popular support in Aden, that anyone but an idiot among his ranks would align with Daesh to do such a thing. It is therefore possible that such a thing might have happened, yet far from probable. Frankly, even if it was another group who set off the bombs, the fact that Daesh took responsibility, is a sign that it is on their agenda to de-stabilise a ‘South Yemen’ that looks to form a government which is certainly not pro-Iran/pro-Resistance, but likewise not a kind of Takfiri dictatorship on the model of the so-called “Islamic State”.

In a pragmatic world, this could be an opportunity for the Resistance to extend a cautious olive branch to the Southern Transitional Movement and agree to either divide or federalise Yemen with the Houthis forming a government along with remnants of the slain President Saleh’s General People’s Congress in the North, while the Southern Transitional Council could form their own sovereign or federal government in yjr South.

Of course, this would face resistance from both Saudi Arabia and Iran who both want Yemen to remain a unitary state, with Iran recognising the factions in Sana’a as the soul legitimate political leaders of the entire country, while Saudi Arabia recognises Hadi and his dwindling number of loyalists as the legitimate political leaders of the entire country. Because of this, an ideal agreement to divide the country and drive Daesh out of each part (they are almost all in the south as it is), will likely not come to pass at this moment because both Saudi Arabia and Iran dream of a country remaining united, even though at present the only thing united about Yemen is that it is united against itself on multiple fronts.

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