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Cablegate: Hamid Al-Ahmar Tries His Hand at Coordinating

VZCZCXRO7843
RR RUEHDE RUEHDH RUEHDIR
DE RUEHYN #1882/01 2851314
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
R 121314Z OCT 09
FM AMEMBASSY SANAA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3002
INFO RUEHZM/GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL COLLECTIVE
RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA 0108
RUEHLB/AMEMBASSY BEIRUT 0183
RUEHRL/AMEMBASSY BERLIN 0110
RUEHEG/AMEMBASSY CAIRO 1047
RUEHDM/AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS 0362
RUEHIT/AMCONSUL ISTANBUL 0014
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RHMCSUU/FBI WASHINGTON DC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 SANAA 001882

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR NEA/ARP AMACDONALD AND INR SMOFFATT
NSC FOR AARON JOST
OSD/POLICY FOR BRIAN GLENN

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/12/2019
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR SA SY GM EG TU LE YM
SUBJECT: HAMID AL-AHMAR TRIES HIS HAND AT COORDINATING
HOUTHI, SOUTHERN MOVEMENT EFFORTS

REF: A. SANAA 1847
B. SANAA 1617
C. SANAA 430

Classified By: CDA Angie Bryan for reasons 1.4(b) and (d).

1. (S) SUMMARY: Citing his desire to throw President Saleh
off balance, Hamid al-Ahmar, prominent businessman,
opposition leader, and de facto head of Yemen's largest
tribal confederation, told EconOff on October 6 that he is
trying to coordinate the efforts of the Houthi rebels and the
Southern Movement. Ahmar said he had spoken recently to
exiled MP Yahya al-Houthi, brother of rebel leader Abdulmalik
al-Houthi, and met with Southern Movement leader Ali Nasser
Mohammed in Damascus to encourage the two parties to work
together and further stretch the ROYG's already strained
military resources. By activating the southern front, Ahmar
hoped to force the ROYG to shift military assets away from
the Sa'ada conflict. In the context of his political party's
Sunni orientation and his family's staunch support for the
regime against the rebels, Ahmar's outreach to the (Shiite)
Houthis is a risky strategy that, if revealed, could backfire
for him politically. Ahmar gave no indication of either
movement's willingness to entertain his suggestion that they
collaborate against Saleh. This, much like his other
anti-Saleh machinations, provides ample evidence that Ahmar
views politics as much a game as a vocation. END SUMMARY.

CELL PHONE DIPLOMACY WITH HOUTHIS, SOUTHERN MOVEMENT
--------------------------------------------- -------

2. (S) Hamid al-Ahmar (strictly protect), prominent
businessman, Islah Party leader, and de facto head of the
Hashid tribal confederation, told EconOff on October 6 that
he is trying to coordinate the efforts of the Houthis with
those of the Southern Movement in order to stretch the ROYG's
scarce military resources and throw President Saleh off
balance. Ahmar said he had spoken recently to Berlin-based
MP Yahya al-Houthi, the exiled brother of rebel leader
Abdulmalik al-Houthi, by telephone for "over an hour" to test
the waters for future coordination with the Southern
Movement. Ahmar said he had also met with Southern Movement
leader Ali Nasser Mohammed at the Four Seasons Hotel in
Damascus on or around September 26 to pitch him the idea of
opening direct communication with the Houthis. Remaining
vague on the details of how the two movements could
collaborate, Ahmar said his goal was for the Southern
Movement to be "more active" in coming weeks, forcing the
ROYG to shift military assets to southern Yemen and away from
the Sa'ada front, thus undermining the government's latest
campaign against the Houthis.

3. (S) Sounding positively giddy at the prospect of working
with the Houthis, Ahmar denied that he is seeking to lengthen
the Sa'ada conflict, instead describing his latest anti-Saleh
scheming as an attempt to create a temporary alliance between
two parties opposed to Saleh's rule. "For me to actively
support the Houthis would be too much, too evil," Ahmar told
EconOff. "But at least I can coordinate their efforts with
the Southern Movement's struggle." (Comment: Given the Islah
Party's Sunni orientation and Hashid's historical support for
the regime against the Houthis (REF A), Ahmar's outreach to
the anti-regime Shiite rebels is a potentially embarassing,
high-wire act that, if revealed, could backfire politically
for Ahmar and Islah. End Comment.)

4. (S) Ahmar expressed frustration at what he described as
Yahya al-Houthi's lack of knowledge regarding key aspects of
the Sa'ada conflict, but remained confident that Yahya could
pass messages to his brother Abdulmalik al-Houthi on Ahmar's
behalf. Dismissing the need to talk directly to Abdulmalik,
whom he has described as a "criminal" in the past, Ahmar said
that his conversation with Yahya was a "good start."

5. (S) Ahmar said he had also raised the idea of closer
coordination with the Houthis in recent telephone

SANAA 00001882 002 OF 002

conversations with expatriate Southern Movement leaders
Haidar Abubakr al-Attas and Ali Salem al-Baidh, but said
nothing of their responsiveness to the idea. Ahmar lamented
that the length of the ongoing Sa'ada conflict had not yet
caused rank-and-file soldiers to turn against Saleh and his
close relatives in the military, as he had predicted would
occur (REF B). Outlining his next steps, Ahmar said he would
lead a small delegation from the JMP-affiliated opposition
National Dialogue Committee, which Ahmar chairs, to meet
Southern Movement leaders (NFI) in Beirut or Cairo in the
coming weeks. (Note: This could refer to upcoming Egyptian
Government-hosted talks between the ROYG, the Southern
Movement, and the Houthis, as reported by independent
newspaper al-Masdar on October 8. End Note.)

COMMENT
-------

6. (S) Left conspicuously unsaid was the response of Yahya
al-Houthi and Southern Movement leaders to Ahmar's suggestion
that they collaborate actively. The Southern Movement does
not need Hamid al-Ahmar as an intermediary to communicate
directly with the Houthi leadership (REF C), nor does it take
orders from him. The movement's willingness to communicate
regularly with Ahmar, however, is in keeping with its alleged
outreach to ideologically strange bedfellows, such as
al-Qaeda. The feverish pace of Ahmar's anti-Saleh plotting,
along with his almost schizophrenic change in attitudes
towards his would-be political allies from one meeting to the
next, gives the impression that Ahmar considers politics as
much a game as a vocation. During a previous conversation,
the Houthis were "extremists;" now Ahmar sees them as useful
interlocutors. During an August 27 encounter, Northwest
Regional Commander MG Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar was a "good and
honest man" (REF B); during the October 6 meeting, Ahmar
singled him out as a thoroughly corrupt official, siphoning
off Yemen's oil wealth.

7. (S) Ahmar increasingly comes across as bored with his own
immense wealth and extensive business dealings; politics,
specifically ways to collude with Saleh's enemies, now
command center stage. Business topics that used to receive
his daily attention, such as the ROYG's draft
telecommunications law and his desire to expand his chain of
fast food restaurants, now are unworthy of even a passing
mention during hours of conversation. In this vein, Ahmar's
outreach to Yahya al-Houthi may represent an attempt to
demonstrate his fearlessness vis--vis the regime rather than
a part of any coherent political strategy. END COMMENT.
BRYAN

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