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article imageOp-Ed: ISIS declares Caliphate in Iraq — PR exercise or call to arms?

By Paul Wallis     Jun 29, 2014 in World
Baghdad - ISIS have declared themselves a Caliphate, a move which experts say could redefine jihadism. It could also be a signal to Al Qaeda that ISIS is now the leading jihad faction. The declaration appears to be as much a PR move as an ideological statement.
The creation of an Islamic state is the common denominator of jihadis around the world. It’s a call to arms for the brave, the bomb-happy and in some cases the bizarre. ISIS, in effect, is claiming to have achieved what the other Islamic factions haven’t.
Sydney Morning Herald:
Baghdad: The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Sunni militants fighting across Syria and Iraq – have proclaimed the establishment of a “caliphate” in a move that experts say could signal the birth of a new era of transnational jihadism.
In a statement distributed online on Sunday – the newly-minted Islamic State declared its chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as "the caliph" and "leader for Muslims everywhere". Baghdadi is thought to be the leader and strategic thinker behind ISIL.
The move comes as resistance against ISIS strengthens. Counterattacks have made some progress, if not well defined, against the initial attack on Baghdad. The western Sunni region is pro-ISIS, but the north and south aren’t. ISIS territory stretches nebulously into Syria, but is now under attack from the Syrian forces.
History of the caliphates- Nothing to celebrate
It’s a matter of opinion whether other Islamic fighters will help ISIS. The internal politics of the Syrian civil war exposed major differences between the different groups.
The net effect of the proclamation of a caliphate is likely to be to keep new fighters coming. Foreign fighters, including as many as 150 Australians, are known to have made their way to the Middle East to support ISIS since the fighting in Syria began.
It’s also a matter of opinion whether ISIS knows Islamic history very well, particularly that of the caliphates. The original caliph was the successor to the prophet Mohammed, but it was also under the caliphate that the battle of Karbala, the battle that finally split the Sunnis and Shia, occurred. The caliphates, plural, went their separate ways, competing and also ultimately breaking up into separate nation states called “caliphates” but in fact local groupings.
External forces, notably Timur, Genghis Khan, and the Crusades, didn’t do the political situation in the Middle East any favors, either. With the exception of Saladin (a Kurd) and Suleiman the Magnificent (a Turk) the Islamic world went into a virtual stupor of different political structures, stagnant and not anywhere near as progressive as the original Islamic culture. The Arabic part of the Islamic world didn’t really have much clout at all for over 1000 years, subjugated by foreigners of various kinds.
Western readers may not know that the original Islamic culture was a sort of scientific and cultural Renaissance, fully on a par with the European cultural Renaissance. Islamic scholars achieved major advances in chemistry, medicine, astronomy, architecture, and even economics. The caliphates were the beginning of the breakup of that culture.
Today’s “conspicuously Islamic” dogmatists are exploiting an ideal, as much as waging a holy war. The caliphate is ingrained in jihadi ideology. The problem is that other nations won’t acknowledge its existence. They can’t. If ISIS is allowed to succeed, the other Middle Eastern nations would be at serious risk of similar rebellions, fed by foreign fighters.
The Shia, notably Iran, also won’t allow the existence of a Sunni state dedicated to destroying Shia shrines and exterminating their people. ISIS has made as many enemies as friends, maybe a lot more. External aid for the Iraqi government is really external aid to fight ISIS, and it's coming in fast from everywhere. Russian fighters and experts arrived in Iraq yesterday, and a large, capable American military presence remains in the region.
Military factors- Tactics beat public relations
Another factor is the sheer number of possible combatants in the Middle East and the amount of military hardware available to them. A country like Syria was able to arm itself to the teeth in a matter of a week or so, and fight an all-out civil war which has killed at least 100,000 people. Other armed factions, notably Hamas and Hezbollah, will be looking after their interests to the west of Iraq.
ISIS has shown the ability to fight an ill-led, disorganized conventional opponent, but the Kurds, Shia militia and other groups are a very different proposition. These are experienced fighters, not likely to simply run away at the sight of a black flag.
The likely result is that ISIS will be fighting multiple opponents around its Caliphate. A bloodbath will be the inevitable result. This isn’t a fight ISIS can win in the long term. Jihadis come and jihadis go, but situations change.
In Afghanistan, international politics protected the Taliban from an all-out war. That won’t be the case in Iraq. International law is the last thing on anyone’s minds. Unlike the Taliban, there’s no safe ground, no conveniently mapped haven to which ISIS can retreat. The Caliphate, in effect, will have to find the resources to fight this war, appealing to Sunnis around the world to provide the manpower.
It’s a very shaky start. ISIS will probably turn Iraq into a mass grave, win or lose, but they’ve also unleashed a combination of forces which will be only too happy to destroy them. The Caliphate may be the final resting place of a part of Middle Eastern politics which is just too risky for Middle Eastern nations to tolerate.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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