Analysis: How significant is Ma’rib liberation in Yemen conflict?

Yemen’s Ma’rib province in the past few days has become the central focus of the six-year war. As the Yemeni army and popular committees already consolidated their positions by winning more than a battle against the Saudi and resigned President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi’s loyalists and mercenaries, Ansarullah Movement is making fast advances on Ma’rib frontlines and only a couple of days separate it from full liberation of the important and strategic province.

On Wednesday, the resistant forces took control of important Al-Zour village in Sirwah District. The Yemeni forces approached the historical Ma’rib Dam after liberating the village and fighting a fierce battle that left dozens dead and wounded in the ranks of Saudi mercenaries, including their officers and commanders.

The moves by the Yemeni forces and the Ansarullah movement in the past few days were not limited to intensifying the attacks to liberate the province, but the Yemeni army and popular committees also attacked various Saudi military bases in the area with missiles and drones, inflicting heavy casualties. Field reports suggest the fall of the Sirwah front and withdrawal of Saudi forces from Jin plain.

Meanwhile, along with the field advances, some news from Yemeni sources said that the Yemeni military leaders met with tribal leaders in Sanaa to discuss a mechanism of contacting the tribes aligned with the Saudi and Emirati aggression and persuading them to return to cooperation with the capital Sanaa for expulsion of the occupiers. Sanaa is held by the revolutionary forces. Addressing the Yemeni tribal leaders and prominent figures, Major General Mashaqi of Yemeni army said: “Your religious and national responsibility requires that you contact the deceived to get out of the Ma’rib. You should save and return them to their families.” He further told them that Ma’rib people along with the army and popular committees plan to cleanse the province of the occupiers.

Impacts of Ma’rib liberation

The liberation of Ma’rib will inevitably lead to an increase in Ansarullah’s power in the Yemeni developments, and will reciprocally reduce the power and influence of the resigned government and the Arab coalition in Aden, the seat of the fugitive Mansour Hadi.

Ma’rib is located in northwestern Yemen, east of the capital Sanaa. It is surrounded by five other provinces: Al-Jawf from the north, Sanaa from the west, Al-Bayda and Shabwa from the south, and Hadrahmaut from the east. The province’s strategic position, big population, economic position, and oil and gas reserves make Ma’rib one of the most strategic and precious provinces for Sanaa and the resigned government to fight for. The country’s main oil pipeline crosses Ma’rib to reach Ras Isa oil terminal on the Red Sea coast.

The presence of a large part of Yemen’s historical heritage in this city has led to the prosperity of hotels, restaurants, construction companies and other types of trade. Its economic growth is higher than other parts of Yemen. Therefore, Ansarullah’s control over this province can help solve a considerable part of Sanaa’s economic problems in the face of sanctions, and give more power to the Sanaa administration in equations.

On the other hand, as the most important traditional base of the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen and the last stronghold of the mercenaries affiliated with Mansour Hadi in the central regions, Ma’rib is vital to maintain the role of the ousted government in the future. In fact, given the prominent role of the Brotherhood in Hadi’s cabinet, the loss of Ma’rib province will have a profound effect on the balance of power in southern Yemen and the fate of the Riyadh agreement, signed last year between the Southern Transitional Council (STC) and Mansour Hadi to share power. Should the province fall, the Brotherhood will face the biggest challenges. In fact, the liberation of Ma’rib will leave the UAE-backed STC free to reduce cooperation with Hadi’s shaky cabinet.

Accordingly, with further Mansour Hadi’s power decline and the complete disappearance of the legitimacy of his self-proclaimed government in the north and south of Yemen, the continuation of the Saudi aggression on Yemeni soil will face questions of legitimacy. With Ma’rib captured by Ansarullah, in any future negotiations, the resistant movement will have an upper hand.

Saudi Arabia and its ally the US are expected to step up their political and military pressures against Ansarullah in the next few days. On Tuesday, the White House urged Ansarullah to halt its operation and advances towards Ma’rib. That is while the Americans take no serious actions to stop the devastating Saudi attacks that have so far left thousands of innocent Yemenis dead and displaced millions others.

In response to the American demand, Ansarullah— seeing Ma’rib liberation marking a significant step towards forcing the opposite side to stop the war and several-year siege— via its chief peace negotiator and spokesman Mohammed Abdelsalam, reacted to the US State Department statement, saying: “We seek a constructive political action. We seek comprehensive halt to aggression and end of blockade. A political process under the fire of aggression and blockade will not succeed.”

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