"We took it forcibly at the point of a blade.
We brought it back conquered and compelled.
We established it in defiance of many.
And the people’s necks were violently struck,
With bombings, explosions, and destruction,
And soldiers that do not see hardship as being difficult,"
And lions that are thirsty in battle,
Having greedily drunk the blood of kufr (infidel).
Our khil?fah has indeed returned with certainty" – From the declaration of the Caliphate entitled "This is the Promise of Allah" delivered by the Islamic State spokesman al-Adnani.
On Sunday the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) declared itself a caliphate. It dropped 'Iraq and Syria from its name and now wishes to be known as the Islamic State. The announcement was made to coincide with the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. They have also changed their flag.
The last caliphate was abolished by the Turks in 1924, bringing an end to the Ottoman Empire, the last of the great empires which ruled the Muslim world. The caliphate that ISIS seeks to recreate, however, is based on the original caliphates of the successors to the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, rather than what they would regard as the weak and corrupted caliphates of later times. The ruler, a caliph, is a religious, political and military position akin to a divinely sanctioned monarchy.
A caliphate is regarded by Sunni Islamic extremists as the only legitimate form of government. Re-establishing it has consistently remained a key goal of groups ranging from the Muslim Brotherhood to Al Qaeda.
Abu Bakr Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State (formerly ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) as the caliph and "the leader of Muslims everywhere." In declaring himself thus, Baghdadi is attempting to seize legitimacy as the leader of the jihadi movement in particular and the Muslim world in general. He was capitalizing on recent sweeping gains made by the group in its capture of Mosul. He will now take on the name and title "Caliph Ibrahim."
One of the primary duties of the caliph is to wage jihad against the kuffar (infidel). In Islamic terms, only a caliph has the authority to declare jihad, immediately marking the Islamic State, in its own eyes, as the only legitimate jihadi organization.
This puts the new caliphate directly at war with Al Qaeda and potentially at war with other jihadi organizations should they refuse to accept the authority of the new caliphate. Professor Peter Neumann of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization regards the announcement as a "declaration of war against the West and al Qaida."
Charles Lister, an analyst from the Brookings Institute emphasized the importance of this declaration in forcing the issue of caliphate onto the jihadi movement:
"The impact of this announcement will be global as al-Qaida affiliates and independent jihadist groups must now definitively choose to support and join the Islamic State or to oppose it. The Islamic State’s announcement made it clear that it would perceive any group that failed to pledge allegiance an enemy of Islam. 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."
In order to make the announcement, three videos were released one after the other. The first celebrated the destruction of the border between Syria and Iraq, and celebrated recent Islamic State (formerly ISIS) gains.
The second video, "An End to Sykes-Picot" featured an Islamic State fighter at an abandoned Iraqi army checkpoint on the Syrian border explaining the end of the old Middle Eastern framework and the beginning of a new Islamic era. Sykes-Picot refers to the secret deal between the British and the French at the end of World War I in which the current borders of the Middle East were drawn up, in order to serve European imperial interest. Iraq was created to be in the British sphere of influence, and Syria in the French sphere.
The third video, "This is the Promise of Allah" is a 34-minute declaration of intent to establish an Islamic caliphate. It is written in flowery language and delivered in Arabic. It promises victory to Muslims and includes many exhortations to martyrdom.
Celebrations have been held by Islamic State supporters. Affiliated accounts have been sharing #CaliphateRestored on Twitter. In Holland a group of young jihadis posted a video in support. In Raqqa, the Islamic State's Syrian stronghold, a military parade was held to celebrate the announcement.
The group has been displaying its characteristically brutal style of rule. A few days ago posters in Mosul called for unmarried girls to present themselves to the fighters for "sex-jihad." The new state also crucified eight opponents over the weekend for belonging to more moderate rebel groups. Their bodies were displayed in the town square of Deir Hafer, eastern Aleppo. A ninth man was crucified for eight hours in another town under Islamic State control, but he survived.
Meanwhile, the nascent Islamic State has set its sights on further growth. Based on official statements and threats they have made on social media, they plan to target Jordan and Saudi Arabia, where they have some popular support. The southern town of Ma'an in Jordan has become increasingly radicalized with young men being drawn to the successes of the Islamic State.
A recruitment drive was also launched recently in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. They have also vowed to conquer Jerusalem and have a foothold in Gaza. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (North Africa), or AQIM, has also expressed support for the ISIS, although they have not yet made any clear declaration of support for the caliphate.
None of this has happened in isolation. The neighboring countries of the new Islamic State are taking steps to protect themselves.
Heavy fighting is taking place around the city of Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi army has been trying to retake the city since last week but has so far been unable to do so. Yesterday it sent in tanks and helicopter gunships. Russia has sent five SU-25 aircraft to bolster the Iraqi air force, with more expected to arrive soon. They have also provided technical experts to assist in training.
Sectarian killings have also started again in Baghdad. Shiite militias called up to assist the government have been murdering Sunnis.
Jordan's army is regarded as strong enough to defend the Hashemite Kingdom. Failing that, Israel has indicated that it might be willing to offer military assistance.
Only last week, senior Department of Homeland Security advisor Mohammed Elibiary tweeted that the recreation of an Islamic caliphate was inevitable and that the U.S. should support such an endeavor, comparing it to the European Union.