How did 'Islamic State' proclaim caliphate?

Article Summary
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, raised the organization from a local Iraqi group to the most powerful jihadist organization in the world.

The organization of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) changed its designation with its June 28 announcement of the Islamic State, thus uniting the entire Muslim world under one caliph, Abdullah Ibrahim al-Samarrai, 43, known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. This represented an unprecedented move; since the establishment of the Umayyad dynasty in Andalusia by Abd al-Rahman al-Dakhil in 138 A.H. [the year 756], no Muslim has so proclaimed himself in nearly 13 centuries to be a caliph ruling over all Muslims in the world.

ISIS, which now calls itself the Islamic State, was established in 2006 following an agreement by jihadist factions for an alliance dubbed back then as Hilf al-Mutayyibin after the death of its first leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who founded the Tawhid and Jihad group in 2004. The latter had stepped up his operations in Iraq until his death in 2006, which prompted Abu Omar al-Baghdadi to pledge allegiance to him. Subsequently, ISIS claimed responsibility for a large number of high-quality operations, resulting in growing persecution of ISIS and its leaders in Iraq and the world, which led to the killing of Abu Omar and his successor, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir in April 2010. Subsequently, Baghdadi (the caliph) took over the reins of ISIS, which was then still known as the Islamic State in Iraq.

Baghdadi maintained the approach of his predecessor Abu Omar by pledging allegiance to al-Qaeda in terms of the caliphate. Baghdadi’s quality operations evolved in Iraq as he benefited from the experiences of new elements with combat expertise in various parts of the world and of an elite group that joined his organization from among officers of the Baath Party affiliated with former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The most important of these operations was breaking into Abu Ghraib and al-Hout prisons and attacking the Ministry of Justice and the Central Bank.

Baghdadi has never hidden his dream of having all Iraqis pledge allegiance to him. He even fought the Iraqi Sahwat tribes, not only on account of apostasy for having joined the national reconciliation and fighting al-Qaeda in his regions, but also since he judged whomever refused to swear allegiance to his state in Iraq as falling outside the scope of his legitimate mandate. The Islamic State in Iraq stormed the Sunni provinces and carried out random arrests and executions of those it called apostates because the latter were suspected of having informed on the mujahedeen or joining the Sahwat.

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After the outbreak of the Syrian Revolution in 2011, which turned into an armed revolution, Jabhat al-Nusra — an armed faction affiliated with the Islamic State in Iraq — achieved field successes against the Syrian regime, unfolded its potential and power in Syria and gained some kind of popular acceptance. Thus, Baghdadi insisted that al-Nusra leader Mohammed al-Golani pledge allegiance to him and join his ranks.

Golani expressed his indirect refusal throughout 2012, fearing the oppression and deceit of Baghdadi, who was advised by Baathist officers not to attempt to try to force Golani to pledge allegiance, but to postpone this for another time. Meanwhile, Golani resorted to religious scholars sympathetic to him in Saudi Arabia to gain legitimacy, as well as to the spiritual leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahri, to recognize al-Nusra as an independent entity, not subordinate to Baghdadi. Baghdadi became angry and announced the merger of al-Nusra with the Islamic State in Iraq into a group called the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, known as ISIS. Since then, Baghdadi focused on trying to extend his influence in Syria, with the continuation of quality operations in Iraq and some arrests and executions of members of the Iraqi people.

Golani — who appeared to be a real Napoleon among jihadist organizations — sought the help of al-Qaeda sympathizers in Saudi Arabia, such as Suleiman al-Alwan, to declare the illegitimacy of ISIS’s demands to include al-Nusra under its scope of subordination. Baghdadi continued to insist on this and al-Nusra kept refusing allegiance to the extent that clashes broke out between the supporters of Baghdadi and those of Golani.

Subsequently, al-Qaeda spiritual leader Ayman al-Zawahri issued a speech via audio recording, in which he announced that he supported al-Nusra, that Baghdadi’s state was limited to Iraq, lacked any authority or powers over al-Nusra in Syria, and that the two parties should help each other in their respective regions without prejudicing each other’s powers. This was the reason for the coup staged by Baghdadi and his followers against al-Qaeda as a whole and their declaration that it was no longer a movement for jihad, but rather a movement of corruption. This implied that Zawahri was not bound by any oath of allegiance to Baghdadi to obey the latter’s demands. This reached the point where Baghdadi declared that al-Qaeda did not have any legitimacy. In the meantime, a grinding battle raged between ISIS and al-Nusra and led to a number of casualties and scenes of gruesome executions on YouTube and social media channels, in addition to mutual accusations of abuses and massacres between the two parties.

As for the Iraqi part of ISIS, Baghdadi had declared in Iraq what he called the demolition of walls. In 2012, ISIS attacked Iraqi prisons and released its detained supporters. It also targeted the headquarters of the General Security in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region. ISIS kept at the same approach and in June 2014, its militants even attacked the province of Ninevah and declared control over it. This coincided with the spark of the Iraqi revolution, which took the form of demonstrations, clashes and skirmishes between tribes, the Iraqi security apparatus and the army.

However, after the attack on Ninevah, the Iraqi tribes’ rebels dominated Mosul and Tal Afar in light of a clear presence of ISIS on the field. Moreover, wide Iraqi regions such as Diyala, Samarra and Anbar witnessed the revolution, which declared in all its shapes its imminent expansion toward Baghdad.

Within the scope of its revolution and outrage at the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Iraqi Sunni tribes condoned the role of ISIS in the revolution and its domination over the region under its control. Moreover, ISIS was preparing to announce the Islamic caliphate and to swear allegiance to Baghdadi as a caliph over Muslims, according the spokesman for the Islamic State, Abu Mohammed Adnani, who announced the replacement of the name of ISIS and the adoption of Islamic State instead.

What is new is not the declaration of Baghdadi as commander of the faithful, but rather that the Islamic State organization is demanding all Muslims pledge allegiance to Baghdadi, including al-Qaeda itself and other movements such as Boko Haram, al-Tawhid wal Jihad and Jabhat al-Nusra, as well as all of the rebels, the tribes and the rulers and their people. This occurs at a time when Baghdadi is waging a war on all fronts against his rivals and opponents, who are already clashing, from the Iraqi army to the peshmerga forces, the Shiite militias, the Syrian army, the Lebanese Hezbollah, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Free Syrian Army, al-Nusra and the Islamic Front. All these movements, factions and forces that are fighting each other were stigmatized as apostates by Baghdadi, and his notion of caliphate and their bloodshed was legalized.

It is noteworthy that Baghdadi is known in the media and some security agencies in the Arab countries under the name of Abdullah Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badri al-Samarrai al-Qurashi. He was born in 1971 and he has a bachelor’s degree, a master's degree and a Ph.D. from Iraq. He operated under the leadership of Zarqawi, and became his successor in 2010. 

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Found in: syria, politics, islamic state, iraq, abu bakr al-baghdadi
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