A few Thoughts on the ISIS-"Caliphate"

June 30th, 2014 - On Sunday, ISIS declared the existence of a "Caliphate" and changed its name to "The Islamic State", dropping "in Iraq and Greater Syria" in an effort to signal a universal claim of leadership and authority over all Muslims wherever they may live. This declaration was spread through an audio by ISIS's official speaker and also in a written version, supplied in several languages. There is little reason to believe this is a fake, given the established channels of distribution, the content and the reactions of ISIS sympathizers.

Many of us have been watching ISIS, al-Qaida and other Jihadist organizations for a while, and we will have a lot to report and discuss in the days and weeks to come, so I will keep this brief. These are just some early thoughts I have been having today and wanted to share with you.

1. In its declaration (Peter von Ostaeyen has covered it here), ISIS stresses the lack of legitimacy of existing Muslim states. This falls in line with ISIS ideology (and the ideology of the groups that ISIS stems from). But it should still be taken seriously. ISIS is clearly not done yet.

2.- ISIS clearly believes that a critical mass of Muslims sympathizes with them. I believe they may be making the mistake of over-estimating that support.

3.- ISIS is very likely hoping that the declaration of the "Caliphate" may lead to tribes or villages or other groups of people outside of the Iraq/Syria-thetare declaring their allegiance to Abu Bakr. While ISIS would know pretty well that this is not sustainable, it could still lead to a degree of chaos and strife in countries like Jordan or Lebanon or Saudi Arabia that may suit ISIS quite well. Remember: Since Zarqawi's days we know that the concept of destabilizing countries is part of the DNA of that group.

4.- It is interesting to note that ISIS argues that any delay in the declaration of a "Caliphate" would be wrong. Saying we had to announce it rather than we wanted to announce it is clever and can become part of a narrative that has the power to convince more people.

5.- You can't declare a Caliphate every other week. This is something that Abu Bakr can do once, and only once. This is why I think he must be pretty confident that even if everybody around him unites against him, he is still able to hold onto some areas.

6.- In terms of historic connection, I think it is important to understand that ISIS is not seeing this is a continuation of the Caliphate that was abolished in 1924. I think ISIS would claim that this Caliphate of theirs is the direct successor the the Caliphate of Ali. Jihadists aren't huge fans of the Ummayads, Abbassids and Ottomans.

7.- Declaring a Caliphate is a direct challenge to the leaders of Jordan and Morocco who are widely considered to be actual descendants of the Prophet Mohammed and (in theory) eligible for the position. It's going to be interesting to see how they will react. Anything ranging from ridiculing ISIS to asking for a war is possible.

8.- Of course Al-Qaida's reaction should be interesting, too. I am personally quite sure that Aiman al-Zawahiri would rather shoot himself than swear allegiance to Abu Bakr, but there may be important people within the AQ nexus who will think more pragmatically (and who don't like al-Zawahiri). There are significant rumors about voices within AQIM and AQAP looking at ISIS favorably. It is definitely not unthinkable that parts of al-Qaida switch to al-Baghdadi.

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