BAGHDAD (Dispatches) -- Iraqi fighters in Iraq are preparing to go to Yemen to ally themselves with the Houthis and fight against the Saudi-led invasion of the country, according to al-Quds al-Arabi.
The announcement by Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada, also known as the Martyrs of Sayyid Battalions, which are affiliated to the Popular Mobilization Forces or Hashd al-Sha’abi, was publicly welcomed by Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, the leader of the Houthi forces.
Al-Quds al-Arabi reported that backing for the Houthis is strong among members of the forces, with many fighters rallying in support and awaiting orders to be deployed.
An official source within Hashd al-Sha’abi in Baghdad refused to confirm that a decision had been taken, Middle East Eye news portal reported.
Saudi forces and their allies have made no major gains in their offensive to wrest control of Yemen’s Hudaydah port from the Houthis, leaving it without any in leverage it had sought against the group in UN-sponsored peace efforts.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates launched the offensive on the heavily defended Red Sea city on June 12 in the largest battle of the three-year war, which the United Nations fears risks triggering a famine.
The Arab states pledged a swift operation to take over Hudaydah’s air and sea ports, without entering the city center. The port is a lifeline for millions in the impoverished state where 8.4 million are believed to be on the verge of starvation.
But they have made little progress in the campaign which Riyadh and Abu Dhabi say aims to cut off the Houthis’ main supply line and force the group to the negotiating table.
Saudi Arabia announced on June 20 that it had seized Hudaydah’s airport, but local military and aid sources told Reuters that neither side has complete control of the airport and its surrounding area, which spreads over 20 km (12 miles).
"The coalition never took control of the airport,” Houthi leader Muhammad Ali al-Houthi told Reuters.
A pro-Saudi Yemeni military source said the Houthis hold the northern outskirts of the area while Saudi-backed forces are trying to maintain their positions along the southern edges.
A senior aid official said Saudi-backed forces had initially penetrated the perimeter of the airport. "But that was short lived for less than 24 hours and they were pushed out,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters.
The Houthis, who control the most populated areas of Yemen including the capital Sana’a, are adept at guerrilla warfare. Houthi fighters have been harassing UAE-led forces near the airport and on the coastal road that the Saudi-backed militants and mercenaries use to resupply their forces from military bases on the western coast.
"It’s hard to see that the Houthis would be swiftly defeated in Hudaydah, even if the coalition activates what it refers to as local resistance,” said Joost Hiltermann, Middle East and North Africa Program Director for International Crisis Group.
Saudi Arabia intervened in Yemen in 2015 to restore a former regime, but neither side has made much progress in the conflict.
UN special envoy Martin Griffiths has been shuttling between the warring parties to avert an all-out assault on Hudaydah that the United Nations fears will exacerbate what is already the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis.
He held a second round of talks with the Houthis in Sana’a last week and is expected to do the same with former president Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, currently based in the southern city of Aden.
The Houthis have offered to hand over management of the port to the United Nations as part of an overall ceasefire in Hudaydah province, according to the United Nations, but Saudi Arabia has said that the Houthis must quit the western coast.