ISIS ‘caliphate’, a year of horror
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.