ISIS Declares New Religious State, Leader as "Caliph"

The group of Sunni militants that have stormed Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, or ISIL), issued a new edict today proclaiming the creation of a new religious state in Iraq and Syria, a "caliphate" that holds supreme rule over all Muslims. The group's leader, Abu Baker al-Baghdadi, has be declared "caliph," or the supposed successor of the Prophet Mohammed. The insurgents have also abandoned the names ISIS and ISIL and will now refer to themselves as The Islamic State.

According to Al Jazeera, the group's declaration of a caliphate is a means of further legitimizing their control over areas of Iraq and Syria:

Al Jazeera's Imran Khan reporting from the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, said that a caliphate is effectively an Islamic Republic led by one leader, regardless of national boundaries.

With the announcement, the armed group is declaring that they are now legitimate, declaring the caliphate as the "true Muslim state", he said.

The announcement might bring up problems with other Sunni fighters in Iraq, who are fighting the central government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and not fighting for the caliphate, our correspondent said.

"They are saying that they are now the center of gravity in global jihad," Hayder Al-Khoei, a specialist on Iraq at Chatham House, a London think tank, told Time. "They have leap-frogged in that sense al-Qaeda."

The group, as reported by USA Today, has established an "efficient" and modern government that also deals in "medieval justice." From Reuters:

In Syria, the group has alienated many civilians and opposition activists by imposing harsh rulings against dissent, even beheading and crucifying opponents, in areas it controls. In Iraq it has been accused by rights groups of carrying out mass executions in the northern city of Tikrit and in Lebanon the group claimed a suicide attack at a hotel on Wednesday.

The declaration comes after the Iraqi government's attempt to take back the city of Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein, from the group. From USA Today:

In Tikrit on Sunday, Iraqi helicopter gunships struck suspected insurgent positions as part of a government offensive to retake the city from the militants. The Iraqi military launched its push on Saturday with a multipronged assault spearheaded by ground troops backed by tanks and helicopters. Iraq said the army is coordinating its campaign with the United States.

The insurgents appeared to have repelled the military's initial push for Tikrit and remained in control of the city Sunday, but clashes were taking place in the northern neighborhood of Qadisiyah, two residents reached by telephone told the Associated Press.

[Image via AP]