x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Saleh picks fight with Hashed confederation, capable of rallying thousands of fighters

Iraqi president has ordered the arrest of the tribe's chief, Sheikh Sadeq al Ahmar, a key player in Yemeni politics, along with his nine brothers, accusing them of 'armed rebellion', as fighting raged in Sana'a between Ahmar's supporters and security forces.

Sheik Sadeq al Ahmar, centre, the head of the powerful Hashed tribe, walks with his bodyguards near his home in Sana'a yesterday. Mohammed al Sayaghi / AP Photo
Sheik Sadeq al Ahmar, centre, the head of the powerful Hashed tribe, walks with his bodyguards near his home in Sana'a yesterday. Mohammed al Sayaghi / AP Photo

SANA'A // The Hashed tribe locked in a battle with troops loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh is a heavily armed tribal confederation capable of rallying and financing thousands of fighters.

Mr Saleh yesterday ordered the arrest of the tribe's chief, Sheikh Sadeq al Ahmar, along with his nine brothers, accusing them of "armed rebellion," as fighting raged in Sana'a between Ahmar's supporters and security forces.

Sheikh al Ahmar, one of the 10 sons of Sheikh Abdullah al Ahmar, who was head of Yemen's parliament and Mr Saleh's main ally until his death in 2007, is a key player in Yemeni politics.

He succeeded his father as head of the Hashed tribe and in March announced his support for protesters calling for Mr Saleh to step down.

His brother Hamid al Ahmar is also a powerful figure in Yemen. He is a prominent businessman and leader in Yemen's largest opposition party - the Islamist al Islah (reform) party.

The tribes are heavily armed and Sheikh al Ahmar can count on thousands of experienced fighters in the highlands, says a western researcher, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Sheikh al Ahmar's men fought alongside Mr Saleh's troops during a civil war in 1994 to defeat a southern succession bid.

North and South Yemen united on May 22, 1990, but the south declared its independence on May 21, 1994, sparking the war, which ended with the region overrun by northern troops.

Saudi Arabia has for years supported tribes in Yemen.

Many tribes in Yemen share common ancestry with Saudi tribes, according to several sources, including US diplomatic cables dated to 2008 and published by WikiLeaks.

Sheikh Abdullah al Ahmar received "large payments" from the government of Saudi Arabia, WikiLeaks reported.

"Yemenis contend the Saudis are paying sheikhs in Yemen for information, to ensure leverage over Yemeni domestic politics and for the allegiance of the sheikhs and their tribes," according to the leaked cable.

Saudi Arabia supported northern tribes in a war against the Republic of Yemen in 1962. That war ended in 1970.

Although the Bakil tribal confederation is larger in numbers than the Hashed, the latter is seen as the most powerful as it plays a stronger political role, said Fares al Saqqaf, the head of the Centre for Future Studies in Sana'a.

Tribesmen of the Bakil's Arhab clan of the hardline cleric Abdul Majid al Zindani, who faces US sanctions as a "terrorism financier", have also fought against Mr Saleh loyalists.

Mr Saleh's own Sanhan clan is affiliated with the larger Hashed tribe.