by Charlie Caris
The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) declared the establishment of what it termed the “Islamic Caliphate” on Sunday, June 29, 2014, the first day of Ramadan. As part of this announcement, the group stated that it was dropping the “Iraq and al-Sham” modifiers from its name, becoming simply the “Islamic State” (IS). In this announcement of an Islamic Caliphate, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, has made a power grab for leadership of the global jihadist movement. He has not only mandated that every Muslim pledge bayah [allegiance] to him as the new Caliph; he has also nullified the legitimacy of any other Muslim group or association, including that of al-Qaeda affiliated groups loyal to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the successor to Osama bin Laden. Al-Baghdadi believes, as former al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi believed, that success on the battlefield is the highest form of legitimacy. Thus it is fitting that al-Baghdadi has chosen to declare the Caliphate as ISIS increases its territorial control.
The Islamic State’s boundaries already extend from “Aleppo to Diyala,” as the statement notes, but the declaration of the Caliphate is meant to spark a global phenomenon. In an audio statement disseminated by al-Hayat Media Center and al-Furqan Foundation in five languages, Islamic State spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani outlined the shape of the new Caliphate.
• The Caliphate statement is directed at Muslims around the world. The statement calls on all Muslims to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State. Adnani is expressing confidence that he has enough international support from the Muslim community to sustain and grow the movement.
• Adnani also goes to great lengths to account for those who may have doubts about the legitimacy of the new Caliphate, asking Muslims to ignore those who “attempt to raise misconceptions.” Say to the skeptics, continues Adnani, that "We had the ability to establish the khilafah ... so it became an obligation for us to do so." This highlights that the Caliphate did not come into existence gradually through the consensus of the Muslim community, but was established by fiat. Emphasizing this point further, Adnani says "We spilled rivers of our blood to water the seeds of the khilafah, laid its foundation with our skulls, and built its tower over our corpse." The Islamic State derives its core legitimacy through decisive battlefield victory, rather than consensus.
• Adnani is claiming that the Islamic State is now the legitimate leader of the Muslim community, and thereby claims his ascendancy over al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. With regard to other organizations outside the Caliphate, Adnani says “the legality of your groups has become invalid.” This poses a major challenge to al-Qaeda aligned groups still loyal to Zawahiri, including Syria's official franchise Jabhat al-Nusra. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has calculated that the increased support his group will garner internationally outweighs the potential backlash from al-Qaeda and its affiliates, particularly since he has real military power and financial resources of his own. In addition, by declaring the Caliphate, al-Baghdadi has complicated future cooperation with groups outside the Islamic State such as the Ba'athist group JRTN and Ansar al-Islam in Iraq.
• Adnani does mention the West and America by name, but does not go into detail other than general denunciations of secularism and Western society. He specifically mentions America, Britain, and France as countries which have contested the idea of an Islamic State.
• Adnani claims the Caliphate was declared only after careful internal deliberation with the Shura council of ISIS and other senior leadership. The announcement was made only after all preconditions were met. Preconditions include appointing walis [governors] in each province, appointing judges, establishing courts, collecting jizyah and fay [a tax or money taken from non-Muslims], and collecting zakat [alms].
• The declaration comes only one day after Islamic State military commander Abu Omar al-Shishani was photographed with Adnani on the Iraq-Syria border. In addition, the Islamic State released an English language video called “The End of Sykes Picot” featuring an English-speaking Chilean jihadist.
The announcement is a bold step, taken as a sort of “political offensive” timed to coincide with the start of the month of Ramadan and an ongoing military offensive that has led to the capture of significant amounts of territory across Iraq and Syria. This play for power is certain to have repercussions, particularly as other groups in the region evaluate how to respond. ISW will continue to update with reactions and a further discussion of the far-reaching consequences of this declaration.