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What The Iraq Crisis Means For Nigeria By Chinedu George Nnawetanma

July 1, 2014

In the Iraq crisis are opportunities for the Nigerian leadership to take stock of the comparability of the two States and their analogous problems and chart a way forward in making certain that it doesn’t go the way of the former Middle Eastern powerhouse.


On Sunday, the 29th of June, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), now preferring to be simply known as the Islamic State, declared a caliphate in an area stretching from Aleppo in northwestern Syria to the eastern parts of Iraq. It becomes the first caliphate since the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, and the Allies.

It was announced in a recorded audio message made available on the internet by the terrorist group via their spokesman, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani. The caliphate will be governed by very strict Islamic laws and ruled by ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, now to be known as Caliph Ibrahim and the self-styled “leader of Muslims everywhere.”
A caliphate is most often a Muslim sovereign state ruled by a single ruler, the caliph. The last of such caliphates was the aforementioned Ottoman Empire which was formally disestablished in 1924, years after the end of World War 1.
This latest episode in the chequered history of Iraq and the turbulent Middle East surely didn’t come as a surprise to many political watchers. It steadily built up, capitalizing on the vacuum created by the Syrian Civil War (2011-present), and an ethnically and religiously divided Iraq. The ISIS made rapid and tremendous gains during the heights of the Syrian conflict by flushing out all the various ragtag and disunited militias fighting against the Assad-led government. They merely took over the territories formerly held by these militias (which were no longer in hands of the Syrian government), abolished the laws of the militia and imposed their own strict Sharia dicta. At first, they were masked as a group fighting for the rights of the masses, but it was not long before the same masses started bearing the brunt of their rule.
The ISIS's declaration of independence and the possible dissolution of Iraq is perhaps the climax of the storyline. Years of misplaced priorities, rebuttal of the ethnic and religious diversity of Iraq, religious frictions and suppression of ethnic minorities by highhanded rulers and vested foreign interests were the perfect foundation and bricks for the present state of things. On their part, the ISIS are fighting both the government and the Kurds. The Kurds are also battling the ISIS and the government.
The Kurds, with a population of about 30 million, are among the largest ethno-linguistic groups in the world without a State of their own. Their territory spans the lands of south-eastern Turkey, north-eastern Syria, northern Iraq and western Iran, covering an area of more than 250,000 square kilometres. In each of the countries where they are found, they are never the majority, leading to their alienation, suppression and marginalization in politics and daily life activities.
The Kurds’ yearning for self-rule was not a priority for the European powers that were victorious in World War 1 as they tore up the defeated Ottoman Empire. The founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Atatürk, was not willing to give up key parts of eastern Turkey to the Kurdish State, leading him to sign an agreement – the Treaty of Lausanne – with the Allies which divided the Kurds between Turkey, Armenia, Syria, Iraq and Iran.
The Kurds, though scattered, never really lost their sense of ethnic identity. They were never assimilated into these five new countries and they were often at loggerheads with the countries governing their territory. In the 1970s, Saddam Hussein kick-started his “Arabization” movement which eventually led to the displacement and massacre of thousands of Kurds in Iraq. But his efforts achieved little in quietening down the Kurds once and for all. Presently, the Kurds are engaging the Iraqi government and the ISIS in a fierce tussle for the control of their oil-rich lands.
This scenario is not dissimilar to past incidences and the present realities in Nigeria. The Kurds can be likened to various ethnic groups in Nigeria that are large enough to form their own States. The Igbos, Yorubas and the Ijaws are also stateless nations in their own rights and each of them has agitated against the federal government for perceived marginalization at various times in the history of Nigeria. The Biafran War was fought between the Igbos and the federal government of Nigeria about the same period Saddam Hussein was championing his “Arabization” movement in Iraq. When the war was over, they were stripped of all their properties, fragmented across various states and divorced from national politics all in a bid to weaken them and quell their nationalism.
The Ijaw’s nationalist movement has produced its own fair share of uprisings, though not on the scale of the Nigerian civil war – one of the bloodiest wars in the 20th century Africa. The struggle over who controls the oil wealth of the Niger Delta championed by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, like the Igbos’ quest for self-determination, may have died down, but it’s not dead yet. Though some people, who out of mischief or sheer ignorance, will argue against this fact.

Historically, the Yorubas, like the Kurds, are not so much interested in what goes on at the centre, preferring regional politics to the intricacies of the federal government instead. Recently, a shift from federalism to regionalism has been advocated in the media by some stakeholders from southwestern Nigerian, with a view to achieving fulltime independence.
Nigeria and Iraq have a lot more in common than we think. Both countries are oil rich, both countries have two major religious groups that are always at loggerheads, both countries harbour irredentist factions and both countries have witnessed and are witnessing serious security challenges. The crisis in Iraq is as much a religious conflict as it is a political upheaval. The Sunni Muslims who are in the majority in Iraq don’t usually get along with the Shiites who, incidentally, are in control of the Iraqi federal government. The ISIS and the Kurds are two Sunni groups fighting themselves and the government of Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite.

In Nigeria, conflicts of a religious nature usually pit the predominantly Christian southern Nigeria against the mostly Muslim north. There has been incidents in the past where several lives were lost following clashes between rampaging Christian and Muslim groups. In some parts of Northern Nigeria, whenever there is a tumult, the first place to be attacked is a church. Among the Christians, Muslims are usually blamed whenever the country is portrayed in bad light by the international press. It is a never ending cycle which does little to suggest that both divides are not intolerant of each other.
The ISIS can be likened to Nigeria’s Boko Haram. The two militias have professed corresponding agendas and have a parallel modus operandi in driving the government out of the territories they have interest in. The Boko Haram insurgency, if left unchecked, can grow in scale and sophistication such that it can hold off the Nigerian military and exercise total de facto sovereignty over certain parts of the north which will be a catalyst in the break-up of the country.
The influence of foreign powers in the Iraq crisis can neither be overruled nor overstated. In addition to the ubiquitous interest of the United States and other world powers in what goes on in Iraq, Saudi Arabia has recently been fingered as a major sponsor of the various dissident groups involved in the Iraqi and Syrian uprisings. Their plot, according to some sections of the Middle Eastern political leadership, is to kill off Iraq as a rival and threat to the kingdom’s petroleum industry by inciting unrest in its oil-rich north. The agenda has so far paid off. Iraq’s oil production output has been heavily hit and there are signs that it may go down further as the country nears total collapse and imminent implosion.
The break-up process is already underway. Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu seemingly endorsed an independent Kurdish State in his statement on Sunday that the Kurds "are a fighting people that has proved its political commitment, political moderation, and deserves political independence.” At some point, hostile host, Turkey, also spoke up in favour of Kurdish self-determination – in Iraq. The reason for this is not far-fetched. Erasing an aggressive Iraq from the world map will be one less problem for Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and a dominantly Shiite Iran that sees Iraq as a clog in its quest for ideological supremacy in a highly religious Middle East.
On the home front, there is no gainsaying that there are foreign powers who will stand to benefit from the break-up of the world’s biggest black country. Nigeria, as Africa’s most populous country and largest economy is a clog in some countries' quest for economic and political supremacy in the continent and beyond, and they will see to it that all of the country’s weaknesses are brought together to actualize its disintegration.
In the Iraq crisis are opportunities for the Nigerian leadership to take stock of the comparability of the two States and their analogous problems and chart a way forward in making certain that it doesn’t go the way of the former Middle Eastern powerhouse.