The Current

What's next for Yemen after killing of former president?

Yemen likely headed into further chaos and bloodshed after rebel forces have killed former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, according to political watchers.
On Monday, Yemen rebels killed the country's former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, throwing a nearly three-year-old civil war into unpredictable new chaos. (Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)

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The Yemen conflict took a dramatic and deadly turn on Monday when the country's former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, was killed.

Independent journalist Iona Craig, who has been covering the civil war in Yemen, describes Saleh's death as "a Gadhafi-style killing."

"From the images that have been put out by the Houthis, it appears he was captured whilst leaving the city in an armoured vehicle, and he was shot dead along with the secretary general of his political party, the GPC, who was also killed alongside him," Craig tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

Houthi fighters react after Yemen's former president Ali Abdullah Saleh was killed, in Sanaa, Yemen, Dec. 4, 2017. (Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)
He switched allegiances with many tribes and many groups ... over the decades he ruled, and again he turned on them in the last few days.- Iona Craig

'Classic Saleh move' 

Saleh had ruled the country for more than three decades and stepped down as president in 2011, but he never truly left power.

For the past three years, he formed an alliance with the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who had been fighting together against a Saudi-backed coalition until this weekend, when Saleh appeared to switch allegiances, according to Craig.

"This was a classic Saleh move really," says Craig. 

"He switched allegiances with many tribes and many groups and individuals over the decades he ruled, and again he turned on them in the last few days."

A man looks from the window of his house which is located next to the house of Yemen's former president Ali Abdullah Saleh after clashes between his forces and Houthis, in Sanaa, Yemen, Dec. 4, 2017. (Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)

She says it appears Saleh may have made a deal with the Houthis "to be able to escape when it was clear his loyalists were going to be overrun."

"And in the process of leaving the city, he was then in fact captured by the Houthis who he had turned on and was killed."

What's next for Yemen?

Saleh's death is a major shock to an already untenable situation, says Barbara Bodine, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Yemen from 1997 to 2001. 

She predicts a strong uptick in violence between the Houthi and those loyal to Saleh. 

A military vehicle used by Houthi fighters is stationed near Tahrir Square as clashes with forces loyal to Yemen's former president Ali Abdullah Saleh continued in Sanaa, Yemen, Dec. 4, 2017. (Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)

"But it's what happens next."

"And the question that we don't know the answer to yet is that how many of those forces loyal to Saleh will move over to the Houthi side as part of their anti-Saudi sentiment? And how many of them might move over to the Hadi government side."

Bodine says it's unclear how these forces will break but the outcome is tantamount to what Yemen's future will look like.

"That could very well determine the balance of power." 

Yemen's humanitarian crisis 

Tens of thousands of people have been killed since the civil war broke out, and Yemen has been faced with mass hunger and a cholera outbreak.

In November, Save the Children said it believed as many as 50,000 children could die in 2017 from hunger and disease. 

Yemenis present documents in order to receive food rations provided by a local charity, in Sanaa, Yemen. (Hani Mohammed/AP)
It's not easy to say 'children get used to it.' No, they don't get used to it. They get traumatized.- Rasha Muhrez

Rasha Muhrez with Save the Children is in the capital of Yemen and says "the fighting is still at a critical stage." 

"We're calling for a cease fire to allow ... aid agencies to start mobilizing our needs and our supply to reach out to the children. They need it on time before it is too late."

She tells Tremonti colleagues are communicating remotely from their safe room situated in the basement of their building. 

"Our main concern here is the safety and security of our Yemeni colleagues who are also very vulnerable to this war. They also have their families to look after and their children to feed and to care about their mental and psychological situation during this war."

Children stand next to a tent at a camp for people displaced by the war near Sanaa, Yemen. Humanitarian aid groups have sought greater access to people in need and a halt to airstrikes by a Saudi-led, Western-backed coalition. (Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)

Muhrez says while staff are trained to deal with the impact of hearing gun shots, bombardments and airstrikes, she worries about the children in their houses.

"It's not easy to say 'children get used to it.' No, they don't get used to it. They get traumatized," she tells Tremonti.

In one case, Muhrez describes hearing about a pregnant woman who was killed.

"She got shot on her way to the hospital. We don't know why ... but we're concerned about that this is a life — two lives — that were taken by stray bullets in the streets just because she had to deliver at this time."

Listen to the full conversation above.

This segment was produced by The Current's Idella Sturino and Amra Pasic.