Iraq's Insurgents Just Declared Massive New Islamic Caliphate in the Heart of the Middle East


The news: After a series of disturbingly quick and effective victories across Iraq and Syria, the militant group known as ISIL has shed its name and rebranded itself: On Sunday, the first day of Ramadan, the group announced that it would henceforth be known as the Islamic State, a caliphate dedicated to ushering in "a new era of international jihad."

Once an offshoot of al-Qaida, ISIL is now asking its former parent organization and other Sunni militias to pledge their allegiance to the newly established regime and to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who has been declared the new caliph — the first man since the Ottoman Empire to be named as a successor to Prophet Mohammed.

"The time has come for those generations that were drowning in oceans of disgrace, being nursed on the milk of humiliation, and being ruled by the vilest of all people, after their long slumber in the darkness of neglect — the time has come for them to rise," the group said in an online statement. And rise, they did: Supporters in Iraq and Syria have already taken to firing shots to celebrate the new caliphate:

Ever conscious of social media, ISIL has also produced a slick, English-language video announcing its future plans to "break the borders" of Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine. "We are not here to replace an Arab cahoot with a Western cahoot. Rather our jihad is more lofty and higher. We are fighting to make the word of Allah the highest," the narrator says on the since removed video. 

Image Credit: AP

What does this mean? Although some analysts have described the move as nothing more than "a publicity stunt," the caliphate and its supporters seem to be taking things seriously. According to ISIL, the new caliphate is already a fully functioning state with its own justice system and tax raising powers.

For al-Qaida — which previously disowned ISIL — and other Sunni militias, this is a moment of reckoning: Should they pledge allegiance to the newly victorious caliphate or should they try to reclaim their own legitimacy?

"The Islamic State's announcement made it clear that it would perceive any group that failed to pledge allegiance an enemy of Islam," writes Brookings analyst Charles Lister. "Already, this new Islamic State has received statements of support and opposition from jihadist factions in Syria — this period of judgment is extremely important and will likely continue for some time to come."

As for Iraq and other Gulf states, this is further proof of ISIL's danger and the need for intervention. "Gulf rulers will view the statement as evidence that the organization poses a grave external threat to their stability," Kristian Ulrichsen, a Gulf expert at the Baker Institute," told Reuters. At least one thing is clear: ISIL is not messing around and it's not going anywhere anytime soon.