ISIS Declares Caliphate - Rebrands as "The Islamic State"

But Have Yet to Face Serious Opposition

It was clear that ISIS was on a mad dash to consolidate power. They have worked overtime to leverage the spoils of war, new recruits and recent territorial gains. But yesterday's announcement makes it exceedingly clear that they are going all-in on this one. And, lest you have any doubts, goal number one is the subjugation of their fellow extremists and regional militias.

We clarify to the Muslims that with this declaration of khilāfah, it is incumbent upon all Muslims to pledge allegiance to the khalīfah Ibrāhīm and support him (may Allah preserve him). The legality of all emirates, groups, states, and organizations, becomes null by the expansion of the khilāfah’s authority and arrival of its troops to their areas. Imam Ahmad (may Allah have mercy upon him) said, as reported by ‘Abdūs Ibn Mālik al-‘Attār, “It is not permissible for anyone who believes in Allah to sleep without considering as his leader whoever conquers them by the sword until he becomes khalīfah and is called Amīrul-Mu’minīn (the leader of the believers), whether this leader is righteous or sinful.”

These warning shots are fired throughout the declaration:

As for you, O soldiers of the platoons and organizations, know that after this consolidation and the establishment of the khilāfah, the legality of your groups and organizations has become invalid. It is not permissible for a single person of you who believes in Allah to sleep without having walā’ (loyalty) to the khalīfah. If your leaders whisper to you claiming it is not a khilāfah, then remember how long they whispered to you claiming that it was not a state but rather a fictional, cardboard entity, until its certain news reached you. It is a state. Its news will continue to reach you showing that it is a khilāfah, even if after time.

That passage hints at the odd defensiveness that pervades much of the declaration. ISIS has clearly been bold in combat and strategically but in reading the entire statement I was left with the impression that the group is deeply aware of its own illegitimacy. The authoritativeness that kicks off the piece gradually fades into a series of weak and defensive attempts to justify their position:

O soldiers of the Islamic State, there is one more matter that I wish to call your attention to. They will look for something to criticize and will attempt to raise misconceptions. So if they ask you, “How can you announce the khilāfah when the ummah has not rallied behind you? For your authority is not accepted by the groups, factions, detachments, brigades, corps, banners, sects, parties, assemblies, councils, institutions, coordination teams, leagues, coalitions, armies, fronts, movements, and organizations.” Then say to them, {But they will not cease to differ except whom your Lord has given mercy} [Hūd: 118-119]. They have never united on a single issue, nor will they ever unite on any issue except for those whom Allah has mercy upon. Furthermore, the Islamic State will bring together those who want unity.

While Western audiences may look at a move like this as a broad declaration of war - or at least a statement of imperialistic intent - it is important to remember that the first massive hurdle for this group is beating out the local competition for control, resources, and support. This is precisely why ISIS might have just jumped the shark. They have, in effect, declared war on everyone in their zone of control. And they have done so very early in the game. Their enemy list is getting mighty large.

Rest assured that the forces targeting ISIS three months from now will present the group with an exponentially greater challenge than it has faced thus far.That response is still spinning up but it is coming and ISIS likely knows it. That, at the end of the day, might be the true motivation for this declaration. What reeks of hubris and bravado might actually be fear.

Blogs of WarJohn Little has been breaking national security news and leveraging thousands of conflict, intelligence, security, technology & political sources to provide level-headed analysis in a complex news environment since 2002.