News / Middle East

With ISIL ‘Caliphate’ Declared, What’s Next?

A fighter of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) holds an ISIL flag and a weapon on a street in the city of Mosul, June 23, 2014.
A fighter of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) holds an ISIL flag and a weapon on a street in the city of Mosul, June 23, 2014.

Iraqis aren’t alone in wondering if the Sunni Muslim insurgency led by the al-Qaida offshoot the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) can be stemmed. Al-Qaida, once the world’s leading terror organization, is being surpassed by its onetime, wayward affiliate and it is none too pleased, say analysts.

In the winter, al-Qaida’s top leadership disowned ISIL and its mercurial leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – a slap down for refusing to obey orders and for his ambition to carve a borderless caliphate across the Levant taking in Syria, Iraq, Jordan and even Lebanon. And al-Qaida’s official affiliate in Syria joined Islamist and mainstream Syrian rebels in battling ISIL and pushing its fighters out of some key northern Syrian border towns and the city of Aleppo.

On Sunday, in an audio recording posted online, ISIL declared its chief “the caliph” and “leader for Muslims everywhere” – another affront to al-Qaida, which claims that al-Baghdadi swore allegiance it its overall leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s successor.

According to ISIL spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani the group decided “to establish an Islamic caliphate and to designate a caliph for the state of the Muslims.”

He added: “the words ‘Iraq’ and ‘the Levant’ have been removed from the name of the Islamic State in official papers and documents.”

Caliphate refers to a system of government stretching across most of the Middle East and Turkey that ended nearly a century ago with the fall of the Ottomans.

ISIL’s increased standing

ISIL’s recent successes in Iraq have increased its standing among jihadi groups worldwide and more foreign fighters are choosing to join ISIL rather than al-Qaida, analysts say. “The two groups are now in an open war for supremacy of the global jihadist movement,” according to Middle East scholar Aaron Zelin in a research paper published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank based in the U.S. capital.

“ISIL holds an advantage, but the battle is not over yet,” Zelin said.

The announcement of  the establishment of a caliphate by ISIL will likely exacerbate the feuding between the two terror groups and intensify their fierce competition to secure the loyalty of affiliates and offshoots across the Middle East and Africa. Jihadi religious scholars skirmished in the winter and spring with opposing rulings about al-Baghdadi’s refusal to obey instructions and withdraw ISIL to Iraq and allow al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra to assume the lead role in Syria.

Most of the leading jihadist ideologues such as Abu Qatada al-Filistini and Iyad Qunaybi sided with al-Qaida. Abu Qatada al-Filastini, a Jordanian whom Britain deported to Jordan this summer, criticized al-Baghdadi for being power hungry.

Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi - according to the Washington, D.C.-based Middle East Media Research Institute the most senior jihadist ideologue - bewailed the al-Qaida disputes in Syria but condemned al-Baghdadi.

Baghdadi on the rise

But the ISIL leaders have attracted the backing of his fair share of militant theologians in the continuing struggle for ideological supremacy. Another Jordanian sheikh, Omar Mahdi Zidan, defended the ISIL leader, arguing the mujahedeen (warriors) are entitled to exercise their own judgment and choose which commanders they want to follow.

And in shake-up of the global jihadi order, al-Baghdadi has secured the backing of some al-Qaida affiliates and other jihadist groups.

The Sinai-based Egyptian jihadist group Ansar Bait Al-Maqdis, which claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing of a tourist bus earlier this year in Egypt that left three South Koreans dead and more than a dozen people injured, has been sympathetic to al-Baghdadi. “There are indications that it is allying itself with ISIS [aka ISIL]”, says Steven Stalinsky, executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute.  

He says ISIL “is positioning itself as an alternative to al-Qaida.”

Ansar al-Sharia groups in the North Africa’s Tunisia and Libya have posted pro-ISIL propaganda online. And jihadists in Gaza are siding with al-Baghdadi.

Huge threat to al-Qaida

Sunday’s declaration of a caliphate by ISIL “poses a huge threat to al Qaida and its long-time position of leadership of the international jihadist cause,” says Charles Lister, a visiting fellow with the Brookings Doha Center.

“Put simply, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has declared war on al-Qaida. While it is now inevitable that members and prominent supporters of al-Qaida and its affiliates will rapidly move to denounce Baghdadi and this announcement, it is the long-term implications that may prove more significant,” says Lister.

For Lister and other analysts Sunday’s announcement demonstrates that al-Baghdadi has no intention of caving in to al-Qaida, and means to pursue a rivalry that they say represents its biggest challenge since U.S. Special Forces killed bin Laden.

Lister adds: “Taken globally, the younger generation of the jihadist community is becoming more and more supportive of ISIL, largely out of fealty to its slick and proven capacity for attaining rapid results through brutality. We will very likely find ourselves in a dualistic position of having two competing international jihadist representatives – al-Qaida, with a now more locally-focused and gradual approach to success; and the Islamic State, with a hunger for rapid results and total hostility for competition.”

But some analysts say the declaration also risks splitting the Sunni coalition ISIL has managed to pull together for an insurgency that in the last two weeks has swept northern and western Iraq.

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Comment Sorting
by: 1worldnow from: Earth
July 01, 2014 7:38 AM
Oh the good times are yet ahead of us. First the Sunnis have to bludgeon the Shias, take their lands, declare their ISIL, and then......and then........start the jihad amongst themselves. That's right. Once the Sunni nations win, then the other Sunni sects will compete for power, so they will continue to bludgeon their own brother Sunni Muslims. All in the glorious name of Allah! Praise Allah for giving these evil, blood hungry, child raping, murderers a reason to exist!

I guess America will be blamed for this too. Don't tell anyone, but for all you America haters, the Sunnis want EVERYONE DEAD...............DEAD! Except for those who are blood (not converted) Sunni Muslims of their own sect! That's right, ONLY BLOOD BORN SUNNIS ARE ALLOWED TO EXIST!!!!!!!!!! NOT INFIDELS!!!!!! NOT CONVERTS!!!!! So for all you converts, you will only be servants of the blood Muslims, until the forth generation of your family, which has to have obtained full Sunni recognition of all your family members into Islam, all 4 generations and all branches of your generations into Islam. You converts should have understood this first (suckers!). Converts are spared until all the infidels are exterminated. Know the facts.

by: Hal Kenoz
July 01, 2014 3:04 AM
Most of the members of ISIL / ISIS are Europeans as I read recently ..Well paid mercenaries most likely from Qatar which. I can't digest that Europe / USA can do nothing. Cutting member salaries will dry these organizations.
In Response

by: 1worldnow from: Earth
July 01, 2014 7:52 AM
Has anyone noticed that unless the US takes action, then no one in Europe will have the guts to do anything? It isn't that the US doesn't care to do anything, it's just that no matter what we do, EVERYONE WILL HATE US FOR IT!!!!! A natural disaster hits a country, the US are the first to help with relief, ask for nothing in return, and the people resume to US bashing once their country is back on it's feet. We don't make any sense as a nation. Since we are a supposed democracy, which we aren't (Federal Repurlic), then we should let EVERY NATION in the world vote as to whether or not they will want our help or assistance for any reason. Then we can scale our military and world help organizations to fit the world's opinion of us. For Iraq, if we help them, they hate us. If we don't help them, they hate us. I took Economy 101 in college, I would think a wise person would choose the cheapest between the 2 options. Think about it. All of Europe hated Bush for taking action. Now that Obama (secret Sunni) isn't taking action, now Europe hates him. Make up your minds Europe!!!! How about Europe take action, then US follows? We just need to stay the heck out of Muslim affairs! Let Muslim nations handle Muslim problems so that the world can hopefully and finally see what that religion is all about.

by: ali baba from: new york
June 29, 2014 9:40 PM
I assure to everybody that ISIl are punch of coward . It is how terrorist organization especially Muslim extremist conduct its business. once they saw that people are weak they took advantage of the weak by killing and raping woman. They do understand the language of power. once Iraq and Syria get strong and confronted them they will run and acted like a woman then we saw in their website and those they supported them a claim that babe were killed . They are disgraceful human being motivated by hatred ,ignorance and barbaric act .They should be eliminated and those they supported them
In Response

by: Keter from: Kenya
July 01, 2014 8:26 AM
who went to iraq first and distabilze it when it was stable under al tikrit himself? its the US, they should go back there and cool the fire,,,,am pretty sure Iraq wont be in a mess as it is now were it that al tikrit was left alone to rule over iraq....
In Response

by: 1worldnow from: Earth
July 01, 2014 8:16 AM
Let's get this right, Ali Baba. First, you are not from NY! Second, you are not in the USA! Third, LEARN ENGLISH!!!!!!!!! What is a punch of coward? Can you mix it with Captain Morgan spiced rum? What is ISII? Israeli Sardines of Ireland and Idaho? Ask your 4th grade teacher to give you a hand the next time you wish to comment about anything.

by: Anonymous
June 29, 2014 9:14 PM
This is the Lord solution for enemy of Christ to fight themselves to death. It is war declare for enemies against enemies.

by: Obangala from: Kenya
June 29, 2014 7:49 PM
what's next....?? - Hussein Obama surrenders to ISIL...

by: mohsen samii from: portugal
June 29, 2014 4:38 PM
Don´t be fooled when you read that there are splits between these terrorist groups as ALL of them belong to one entity - the West.

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