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Scholar: U.S. Drone Use Has Contributed To Yemen's Instability


Name a problem plaguing the Arab world and Yemen is likely to be suffering from it. The country of 24 million on the southern half of the Arabian Peninsula is poor. It's home to the most dangerous offshoot of al-Qaeda that's still in business. During the Arab Spring, protests forced out the pro-Western kleptocratic president, but his successor is so weak that a force of rebels - who unlike al-Qaeda are Shiite Muslims or members of a branch of Shiite Islam - took over the presidential palace this week. Some observers of the chaos in Yemen say U.S. counterterrorism strategy there has at least failed to make things better and perhaps has even made things worse. We're going to talk now with Ibrahim Sharqieh, who's with the Brookings Institution center in Doha, Qatar. Welcome to the program once again.

IBRAHIM SHARQIEH: Thank you for inviting me.

SIEGEL: And first, is it fair to say that U.S. counterterrorism strategy in Yemen has been essentially to kill al-Qaeda terrorists with drones?

SHARQIEH: Well, the U.S. counterterrorism policy has always focused on drones, and that actually contributed to the instability that Yemen has been having for the past years.

SIEGEL: So you're saying it's a policy that has not succeeded?

SHARQIEH: It has not succeeded at all. And on the contrary, it actually contributed to the instability that Yemen has been seeing for the past years because that's not the source of the problems. There are many sources of the problems in Yemen, including first and foremost, poverty and development and corruption.

SIEGEL: Now, take us to the situation in Sana'a - in the capital now - where the rebels called the Houthis who are not Sunni Muslims have taken the presidential palace - there's talk of a COO. How - what would that do to the U.S. presence in Yemen?

SHARQIEH: That definitely has complicated the U.S. activities in Yemen because traditionally, U.S. and the Houthis don't get along. The Houthis are considered proxies of Shia in Yemen - of Iran, I mean, and (unintelligible) perceived to work for an Iranian agenda.

SIEGEL: Is it fair, Ibrahim Sharqieh, to observe that frankly in Yemen there are no good choices - that things are just so bad that there's not much the United States or neighboring Saudi Arabia or the Gulf Cooperation Council could do?

SHARQIEH: Well, I agree actually. Now the situation has become probably the most complex in the past probably 10 - 15 years because there are so many different actors and each group is working for its own agenda. This situation has led to creating so many odd and weird situations where you would find for example, the U.S. and the Houthis are in the same camp fighting al-Qaeda. And that's exactly what happened almost a month ago in the city of Rada' where the Houthis who raised the slogan of death to America were fighting along with the U.S. drones, one from the air and one from the ground. So this has created and led to a complex situation and for the first time, we are seeing signs and signals about a possible civil war especially if the Houthis continue to escalate and alienate the other political parties in Yemen.

SIEGEL: Ibrahim Sharqieh, thank you very much for talking with us today.

SHARQIEH: Thank you, Robert, for inviting me.

SIEGEL: Ibrahim Sharqieh is deputy director of the Brookings Doha Center - that's in Qatar where he always teaches at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.