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What the Iraq crisis means for Nigeria


By Chinedu Nnawetanma

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. 

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, capitalising 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 marginalisation 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 marginalisation 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 “Arabisation” 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.

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