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Iraq PM Abadi reportedly calls Houthi delegation 'representative of Yemen'

Yemeni delegation claim Iraqi PM recognition of their government as regional Shia militias are divided over Iranian influence
Yemeni delegation with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi at his residence in Baghdad (Photo from Houthi spokesman @abdusalamsalah)

The Houthi delegation in Iraq claimed that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi recognised them as “representative of Yemen”.

Houthi spokesman Mohamed Abdel Saleh posted a statement on his Facebook page on Wednesday saying: “The prime minister welcomed the delegation as the representative of Yemen and confirmed that Iraq, both at a governmental and popular level, has supported the suffering people of Yemen from the start, and opposes unjustified aggression against Yemen.”

When the two parties met, they discussed "the political, humanitarian and economic situation in Yemen," according to Saleh's facebook post.

“The delegation explained to the prime minister the reality in which the Yemeni people are living, and the consequences of the aggression that has led to catastrophe and human suffering,” it added.

The full statement from the Yemeni delegation posted on their spokesman’s Facebook page

In a video distributed by the Iraqi prime minister’s office, Abadi is seen meeting with the delegation, telling them how Iraq had tried to send medical, humanitarian and food aid to Yemen through the Iraqi Red Cross, but was thwarted by “obstacles” along the way.

Video distributed by the Iraqi prime minister’s office showing Abadi meeting with delegation

Salah also praised the decision to create the Supreme Politicial Council (SPC), a body comprised of Houthis and Yemen's former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, saying it was "important, successful, and a step in the right direction.”

The Houthis and forces loyal to Saleh seized control of Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, in 2014, forcing Yemen's internationally recognised president, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, into exile in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia and pro-Hadi forces have battled the Houthis since March 2015.

The Saudi-led coalition has banned the SPC from returning to Sanaa, meaning they are forced to stay in neighbouring Oman.

Translation: "During the meeting of the Yemeni government delegation this evening with Iraqi Prime Minister Dr. Haider al-Abadi."

Abadi, whose reported recognition of the council as “representative of Yemen” will be seen as an unwelcome development in Riyadh, said Iraq had made clear to the international community that the war in Yemen could confuse matters, as the “real danger was not from Yemen but from Daesh and al-Qaeda,” using a different acronym for the Islamic State (IS) group.

Internal Shia politicking

In related news, the Lebanese National News Agency reported that the influential Shia cleric Sayyed Muqtada al-Sadr arrived in Beirut on Wednesday evening.

Sadr leads the politically influential Sadrist movement and has strained relations with both Abadi and Iran. When his supporters stormed the Green Zone in Baghdad earlier in the year, they were recorded chanting “Iran out!” in a sign that Iran’s growing hegemony in the Middle East is causing friction even within its own camp.

Video title: “The masses in Celebration Square chants Iran out / Oh, Qassem Soleimani.. Sadr is a divine person”

This is Sadr’s second visit to Lebanon this year. Last April, he flew to Beirut to speak to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who tried but failed to repair relations between Sadr and Abadi’s predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki.

The recent spate of internal Shia politicking comes as Iran steps up its already intense involvement in the Arab world.

Mohammad Ali Faliki, a retired Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander, told Iranian media last month that Iran had created a "Shia Liberation Army," led by General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC's foreign operations wing. Faliki said that the newly created militia was fighting on three fronts: Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi pictured meeting with the Yemeni delegation (Photo from Houthi spokesman @abdusalamsalah)

On Monday evening and Tuesday morning, the Houthis also held talks with al-Hashd al-Shaabi, a coalition of Iraqi Shia militias.

During these meetings, the Houthi delegates were filmed meeting Ayyub al-Rubaie, better known by his nom de guerre Abu Azrael or "Angel of Death", who pledged to fight in Yemen alongside the Houthis against Saudi Arabia.

An Iraqi, al-Rubaie is a high-ranking commander in the Imam Ali Brigades, which are part of al-Hashd al-Shaabi.

Video title: “Abu Azrael meets Houthi delegation and tells Saudis: Where will you flee?”

In a video clip shared widely on Arab social media on Monday, he is seen with the Houthi delegation threatening Saudi Arabia.

“We are coming for you, Saudis, from Yemen,” he is heard saying. “Where will you flee? We will grind you into dust!” he threatens as the delegation laughs in the background.

Arab media have reported that the Yemeni delegation will travel on from Baghdad to Beirut in Lebanon and then to Tehran.