The Arab Spring has become the Jihadi Spring as Libya devolved into lawlessness, Egypt reverted military dictatorship, and the uprising in Syria turned into a sectarian civil war that’s engulfing Iraq.
On Sunday, the extremists ISIS militants who are leading the Sunni insurgency in Iraq announced the creation of the Islamic State (IS), or “Caliphate,” with its chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi “the Caliph” and “leader for Muslims everywhere.”
IS is well-funded (largely from extortion and selling oil) and has become attractive for extremists across the globe who want to join global jihad. The group is also savage, crucifying rival Syrian rebels and chopping off the hands of thieves.
Most importantly, IS is consolidating news gains in Iraq while also holding off Iraqi government forces that are bolstered by Iranian-trained militias — although it is important to note that they are only able to do so with the cooperation of Sunni tribes, the civilian population, and the former Baath generals who were loyal to Saddam Hussein.
Sheikh Ali Hatem al-Suleimani, the head of the powerful Dulaimi tribe that has been in open revolt against the Shia-dominated government of Nouri al-Maliki since last year, told The Globe and Mail that the IS “terrorists” make up no more than 10% of the insurgency and that their role in the uprising had been exaggerated by “social media, Facebook and Twitter.”
“We are postponing our fight with [IS] until later. After Maliki is gone, ISIL will not be a big problem for us,” al-Suleimani told reporters. “Now is not the time to fight [IS], it’s the time to fight Maliki.”
It’s unclear how that fight would play out. The areas that appear to be under IS control (in grey) stretch from Aleppo in northwest Syria to Fallujah in central Iraq to a border post near both Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
The announcement of IS is seen by experts as a direct challenge to al-Qaeda as the world’s premier jihadist organisation.
No matter ISIS perceived legitimacy/illegitimacy, Al-Qaeda Central is in massive trouble now. Welcome to the new era of international jihad.
– Charles Lister (@Charles_Lister) June 29, 2014
“(al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri) is in a no-win situation,” said Aaron Zelin, Islamist militant expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told The Wall Street Journal. “He’s not going to relinquish his position as heir to global jihad and to al Qaeda to somebody else. He’s going to have go along a very thin line in terms of being excited about this announcement without hurting his own stature.”
To get an idea of the general IS mindset, here’s what an ISIS fighter recently told al-Monitor:
“Look at Egypt. Look at the way it ended for Muslims who cast their vote for [deposed President] Mohammed Morsi and believed in your democracy, in your lies,” The unnamed fighter said. “Democracy doesn’t exist. Do you think you are free? The West is ruled by banks, not by parliaments, and you know that. You know that you’re just a pawn, except you have no courage. You think of yourself, your job, your house … because you know you have no power. But fortunately, the jihad has started. Islam will get to you and bring you freedom.”
Here are some tweets from experts in reaction to the creation of the Islamic State: