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Welcome to the new Islamic State

The declaration comes as no surprise as ISIL's ambition has always been bold, but its significance is yet to unfold.
Last modified: 30 Jun 2014 17:36

Within the space of an hour, I went from living in Iraq to living in the newly declared Islamic Caliphate, without moving an inch. Almost.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant issued a statement saying that within the territory they hold, a new nation has arisen, free of national borders and headed by a Caliph, the head of all Muslims.

Abu Bakr al-Baghadi is that Caliph, and he says he is the highest religious authority in the country. Eventually, the group wants to redraw the map of the Middle East and the first step is take the ground between Aleppo in Syria and Diyala in Iraq and unite it under its black flag. From there the whole Muslim world shall come under its rule. 

That the announcement came as surprise, should surprise no one. ISIL's ambition has always been bold. However, in Iraq the reaction has been, officially at least, ‎strong.

Speaking to Reuters news agency, Iraq's military spokesman Qassem Atta called the newly named group a "global" threat. However, others are less sure.

One military source told Al Jazeera that the group was "disillusioned" and without legitimacy.

"This is just another phase that these factions are going through – it is the beginning of the end for them, – they believe that they are in control currently across different Iraqi territories. These statements of a new Caliphate or Caliph are nothing but illusions." 

'A great comedy'

Across the political spectrum the announcement has been derided, even mocked privately. If it wasn't for the group's bloody battle across Iraq and Syria, one Iraqi told me it would make a great comedy.

However, Khalid Al-Assadi, a Shia MP for National alliance isn't laughing.

"This is just a mere storm and it will be over soon, we do not actually give much attention to those armed groups especially ISIL, the announcement of a new Islamic state is nothing but a wild imagination of a desperate fanatic gang that want to seize control in a bloody way.‎"

"Iraqi people will stop these vicious thugs," he added angrily.

Others are frustrated that a group like the Islamic State have been bold enough to declare such a move while the international community does nothing.

‎"While all this is happening the United States are standing still with a deaf ear and a blind eye to Iraq which is on the verge of division and disintegration. the Americans have let Iraqis down," said Iskander Witwit, a Sunni MP for the Wataniyah ‎Bloc.

International inaction on Syria has been a big factor in the rise of the group previously known‎ as ISIL, but has its moves in Iraq proved a step to far?

The Islamic stat‎e wants all of the Sunni rebels to pledge allegiance to its flag and to fight with it. That's likely to drive an ideological wedge between the Sunni rebels and the Islamic State who have very different goals.

In Tikrit, the Naqshbandi army is the main fighting force. Its aims have been clear from the start: regime change in Iraq. The other Sunni rebels have similar goals. This a war against Maliki, they say, not an international jihad.

Significance is yet to be seen

Secondly, the religious justification is unclear.

Most experts say that a Caliph needs to have popular support and clear authority to able to hold the title. If the Islamic State is to get people to support it globally it will need key Muslim scholars to issue fatwas and religious edicts in support.

That's the only way many will be swayed to rally to the Islamic caliphate cause. In the past, Baghdadi has been in a power struggle with Ayman al-Zawahiri for the leadership of the international jihad, but has this move handed an opportunity to Zawahiri to take back the mantle?

If he can persuade the world of the illegitimacy of Baghdadi's move, he will be hailed by Jihadists and Jihadist sympathisers. ‎Already some of those people are saying it's not the time to declare a Caliphate as Muslims lands are not yet united.

But what happens if and when Baghdadi is defeated?

Before the Islamic State the group could have gone back to Syria with the arms, vehicles and money that they captured, regroup, and be hailed as heroes. If they lose this battle now, jihadists will question Baghdadi's judgment and wonder how much damage this declaration has had on the loose-knit and uneasy alliance of fighters globally.

Declaring the Caliphate is not a small thing. It has religious, political significance, and one we haven't seen fully unfold here in Iraq yet.

Follow Imran Khan on Twitter: @AJImran