On 9 June 2014, fighters of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) pushed deep into Iraq from Syria. Within a few days they had taken over the west of the country and advanced to just outside of Bagdad. On 29 June 2014 they declared the formation of the "Islamic State" and a new caliphate.
For the first time, jihadists are in control of a contiguous, transnational territory in the Middle East. However, with the designation of their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as "the Caliph" – the religious and political leader of all Muslims – they may have overreached, ideologically and politically.
The rapid success of ISIS in Iraq has several causes: Iraq is politically and ethnically divided and in some places without centralized power. ISIS already had a territorial base in Syria and some Iraqi towns under its control; extensive resources in terms of weapons, money, and fighters; and Iraqi allies in the fight against the unpopular government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad.
By adopting the early Islamic concept of the caliphate, ISIS is appealing to many Muslims’ longing for cultural authenticity, religious purity, and political unity. It is not fulfilling this promise, however, because its brutal approach is dividing societies and even scaring off many Sunni Muslims – whom it claims to defend.
Inherent to the caliphate is a claim to sole political and religious representation, which neither the existing Muslim states nor most Sunni religious authorities will be willing to accept – not to mention the numerous religious and ethnic minorities in the region.
The advance of ISIS has intensified the fragmentation of Iraq and could accelerate the dissolution of the single state there. However, a breakdown into individual ethnic-confessional micro-states would not do away with ISIS. It would also not solve the country’s problems, but rather multiply them.
The Caliph’s New Clothes: The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, GIGA Focus International Edition English, 06, September, urn:nbn:de:0168-ssoar-397471(2014),
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