Originally Published 2014-08-16 00:00:00 Published on Aug 16, 2014
Although Nouri al-Maliki's government might be able retake the towns overrun by the IS and the tribes with the help of Iran, United States and Russia, it might not be able to bring peace and stability to the country until an exclusive and effective policy is introduced.
ISIS's Caliphate declaration: Regional reaction

The fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1924 had marked the end of the Caliphate period. Nevertheless, the quest to re-establish it has drawn the energies of many over the last decades. In April 1996, Mullah Mohammad Omar was declared Amir-al-Mu'minin (Leader of Muslims) from Afghanistan and recently Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has claimed to be the Amir-al-Mu'minin in the area under his control in Iraq.

The aim was to revive the Caliphate or the concept of one Islamic nation in the world. The announcement received sympathies and rejections as well.

"For ideological jihadists, caliphate is the ultimate aim, and the IS (Islamic State) - in their eyes - has come closer to realising that vision than anyone else. On that basis, IS leaders believe that they deserve everyone's allegiance", said Prof. Peter Neumann, of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King's College London.

Consequently, the announcement of 'caliphate' appears to have inspired many jihadists to join IS including those previously aligned to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula including the spokesman of al-Qaeda, some members of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Jabhat al- Nusra in Syria. Tahreek-e-Khilafat and Sipah-e-Sahaba of Pakistan have also rendered their support to the IS and become the first to support the group from outside the West Asian region.

Gradually, as predicted by some experts, this local faction is turning into a movement. It is because IS has many more advantages and poses more danger than al-Qaeda. Firstly, it is located in the heart of traditional power centres of the Islamic world, Iraq and Syria. Secondly, its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi claims to be a descendent of the Prophet Mohammad's family. Thirdly, he has religious credentials as a holder of PhD in Islamic studies. Lastly, this group is fighting a sectarian Jihad which tends to be more polarising that other forms of Jihad.

It is very unfortunate for the Sunnis that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is rigidly sectarian. Instead of building national unity in Iraq he sidelined the Sunnis. The fear and anger among the Sunnis has triggered the revolt among the tribes in central Iraq.

In an interview with Asharq al-Awsat Sheikh Ali Hatim, the head of the Dulaim, one of Iraq's largest Sunni tribes, described the latest event as a tribal revolt. He claimed that the tribal military committee has been formed in the province Anbar, Nineveh, Salah al-Din and Diyala, apart from Baghdad.

The IS, therefore, advanced in the first four provinces with a little resistance because they were the territories of tribes - the Dulaim and the Shammar in Anbar, the al-Jubour in Nineveh and the al-Douri in Salah al-Din. Tribes in these areas joined IS and let them through, the Shia Iraq army had no chance because it was entirely hostile for them.

Meanwhile, the 'caliphate declaration' has also been severely criticized by regional scholars. Ahmad al-Raysuni, the vice president of International Union of Muslim Scholars, Qatar said, "The announcement of Caliphate is nothing more than a mirage or dream."

Another Qatar-based Egyptian Muslim scholar Yusef al-Qaradawi said, "The declaration of an Islamic caliphate by the militant Islamic State of Iraq and Syria violates Sharia law." Likewise, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an Islamic organisation, has also criticised the IS's announcement saying that "Caliphate state has no value".

However, Saudi Arabia, one of the key regional players, is watching the entire mayhem with curiosity, especially Iran's reaction to the whole issue. In early July 2014, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah spoke to the U.S. President Barack Obama and stressed on the need of forming a unitary government amid the violence.

Riyadh is very concerned that the militant upsurge led by the IS could also be directed against Saudi Arabia. In March 2014, Saudi Arabia banned the IS, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Nusrah Front and listed them as terrorist organisations. But now it fears that terrorists might target the holy city of Mecca. Besides, an internal concern that Riyadh had, after banning IS, was that some rich Saudis who see IS as a spiritual ally against Shiites, would support it financially.

On the other hand, Iran does not want the destabilisation of Shia led Iraq by a Sunni militant group. It has sent advisors from the elite Iranian Republican Guard (IRG) under the command of Major-General Qasem Soleimani and has signalled to work with US to tackle the threat of IS.

Iran's former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a close advisor to Rouhani, said in an interview to a Japanese daily The Asahi, "No obstacle to work with US in Iraq, we share a problem concerning Iraq and we will cooperate if necessary."

Both, Saudi Arabia and Iran are threatened by the IS's strengthening influence in the region. Recently Riyadh sought military help from Pakistan and Egypt to protect the 500 mile-long border it shares with Iraq and Syria.

The big question, however, is about IS itself: Will it be successful in its goal of creating a single Islamic Nation? But the way the IS is fighting in Iraq, by bombardment and destruction of world-famous antiquities and holy sites of Shias, it is only likely to increase the sectarian Shia-Sunni conflict. The IS, which represents the orthodox interpretation of Islam and Salafi ideologies, will also be a challenge for the moderate and liberal Muslims in Iraq in the long run.

Although Maliki's government might be able retake the towns overrun by the IS and the tribes with the help of muscle power supported by Iran, United States and Russia, it might not be able to bring peace and stability to the country until an exclusive and effective policy is introduced. Therefore, in the short run, there are prospects of more violence in the region.

(Sikandar Azam is a Research Assistant at the Observer Research Foundation)

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.