ISIS ‘caliphate’, a year of horror

Friday 26/06/2015
The general view across the Middle East is that the caliphate will not survive

BEIRUT - The Islamic caliphate that was proclaimed on June 29, 2014, in the Iraqi city of Mosul defined what the Islamic State (ISIS) is all about: a new nation of Islam that will expand, from blood-soaked be­ginnings, across Africa and Asia.
One year on, cadres dispatched by Caliph Ibrahim — ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi — are recruiting in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia, predominantly Mus­lim states, and in the unruly Cau­casus on Russia’s southern door­step where Islamic insurgents have declared an emirate that has given ISIS some of its fiercest fighters and ablest commanders, such as the red-bearded Omar al-Shishani, a veteran of Russia’s brutal Chechen wars.
Baghdadi and 2,000 of his jihad­ists seized Mosul, Iraq’s second larg­est city, in June 2014 in a blitzkrieg assault that overwhelmed a greatly superior Iraqi government force that fled in disarray, abandoning vast amounts of US-supplied weaponry and equipment.
A month after the fall of the city of 2 million, the notoriously secretive Baghdadi, whose family claims de­scent from the Prophet Mohammad, appeared in public for the first time to deliver Friday prayers at Mosul’s Grand Mosque. Clad in black robes, the bearded once-obscure Iraqi cleric, urged Muslims worldwide to “obey me as far as I obey God”.
It was a stunning moment that was largely greeted with incredu­lity at Baghdadi’s insolence. Most Muslim scholars consider the new “caliphate” illegitimate. But what­ever it is, it was a warning to the Arab kings, princes and presidents that if they thought al-Qaeda with its jihadist aspirations was a threat to their power and the dynastic system on which it rests, they now face something far more danger­ous, dedicated and infinitely more deadly. One year on, ISIS controls a self-declared state that covers half of Syria and one-third of Iraq and seeks further conquests to sweep aside the artificial borders drawn by the British and French after the first world war that have brought noth­ing but misery across the region.
The slaughter that ISIS has brought in its wake, massacring non-Muslim minorities who inhabited the region since time immemorial, suggests that misery will continue, probably for years.
In recent times there have been dramatic shifts in the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East, and most stem from the 2012 emergence of ISIS, none more so than its bold transition from an Islamic extremist movement into a putative nation-state. That has thoroughly shaken the regional equilibrium and “has drawn in regional and global pow­ers, redefining how they behave”, observed George Friedman, head of the US-based global intelligence consultancy Stratfor.
“While al-Qaeda might have longed to take control of a significant nation-state, it primarily remained a sparse, if widespread, terrorist organisation… It was a movement, not a place. But the Islamic State, as its name suggests, is different. It sees itself as the kernel from which a transnational Islamic state should grow.”
The general view across the Mid­dle East is that the caliphate will not survive, surrounded as it is by enemies, both Shia and Sunni. But before its collapse, there will surely be years of death and destruction.