An in-depth look at how the ruthless caliphate gained power through the state disintegration of Iraq and Syria, and the awakening of narrow, sectarian identities.
When IS demolished the Iraqi-Syrian borders and swept into Iraq in early June of 2014, it was still operating under the name of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). But less than three weeks on 29 June later it got rid of its last two significant letters and was transformed to only IS—the Islamic State, without any geographical or national references.
‘ISIL’, ‘ISIS’ or just ‘IS’ represents a significant evolution of names, from those deriving their symbolic power from Quranic words and the history of Islam to mere geographical references to Arab states. This evolution suggests a certain confusion as to how the group has viewed itself—between posing as armed, radical jihadists and acting as a jihadist state with its own territories, sharia laws and revenues.
The story of what is today known as IS began with a long journey from Afghanistan to Iran, then later to Iraq, by a young Jordanian full of jihadi dreams. He was regarded by the former US secretary of state, Colin Powell, in his presentation to the National Security Council on 5 February 2003, as the link between Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda.
Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi, whose real name was Ahmed Fadhil al-Khalaylah, formed Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad ( the Monotheism and Jihad Group) in the 1990s in Afghanistan. At the end of 2002, Zarqawi moved to Iraq and joinedAnsar al-Islam in the Kurdish area. After the 2003 US invasion he moved south to Baghdad.
In May 2004 he formed a group under the same name, Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, which began a meandering journey towards establishing a new model of a state: a jihadist state. The group was not a branch of al-Qaeda until October of the same year, when al-Zarqawi pledged his allegiance to Osama bin Laden. al-Zarqawi was named the amir of al-Qaeda in Iraq by bin Laden, and his group became an official branch of the global jihadist network, operating under the name Tanzeem al-Qaeda fi Bilad al-Rafidaeen (al-Qaeda Organization in Iraq).
The group retained the al-Qaeda brand for about a year and a half, during which it explored the Iraqi insurgency landscape and built a powerful network of ties with the main insurgent actors: Sunni extremist groups plus former officers of Saddam’s regime, Baathists and Sunni tribe leaders. All were mainly operating in the Sunni-dominated, western parts of Iraq. In January 2006 the Mujahdeen Shura Council was declared as an umbrella organization and co-ordinating body for nine Sunni extremist groups, with al-Qaeda exerting the most influence.
On 7 June 2006, while al-Zarqawi was attending a meeting in Baquba, north-east of Baghdad, he was killed in a targeted American airstrike.
In October, Hilf al-Mutaybeen (Alliance of the Perfumed Ones) was declared, including another few Sunni insurgent groups in addition to the Mujahdeen Shura Council. But the most significant step in this convoluted history, beyond alliances, pacts and militant networks, was declaring an ‘Islamic state’ on 15 October in the westof Iraq, at the height of the Iraqi civil war, under the name al-Dawla al-Islamyia fi al-Iraq–the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI).
Al-Dawla was established after all the jJihadist groups operating within the Shura Council dissolved themselves and pledged allegiance to Abu Omar al- Baghdadi, the new Amir ul-Mu’minin (leader of the ISI), who was killed in 2010. The organization’s leadership was then succeeded taken by another Baghdad–the Bucca prison graduate, jihadist and current self-declared caliphate, Abu Baker al-Baghdadi, whose real name is Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai.
In August 2011, a few months after the beginning of the Syrian uprising, al-Baghdadi sent his Syrian representative and ‘soldier’ Abu Muhammad al-Golani across the border, with the blessing of al-Qaeda’s central command, to establish the Syrian version of the group under the name Jabhat al-Nusra li Ahal-asham (the Support Front for the People of Sham). This started military operations at the end of 2011 and was announced formally in January 2012. The main goal of the group was to bring down the Alawite regime of Bashar al-Assad and establish an Islamic state.
On 9 April 2013, the tenth anniversary of the fall of the Baathist state in Iraq, al-Baghdadi declared the birth of a new state. In an audiotape released online, he said al-Nusra was an extension of ISI and part of it. By declaring the merger between al-Nusra and ISI, and adding the letter L to its name, al-Baghdadi annexed Syria and all of the Levant to his Islamic state and the name was officially changed to ISIL.
At the end of June 2014, after ISIL had secured control of large territories in both Iraq and Syria, just when it was getting closer to achieving its strategic goal as suggested by its long name; all of a sudden it dropped the last two words to declare itself as the Islamic (or Caliphate) State.
April 2003: awakening identities
Little about the group or the Islamic State will be explicable and understandable without looking back at 2003 and the US-led invasion of Iraq. April 2003 was the birth of a whole new political phase in Middle East in regard to the awakening of narrow identities, especially sectarian identities. Overthrowing Saddam meant the collapse of a state that had been led for 35 years by a strange mixture of totalitarian Baathist ideology with a flavor of Sunni sectarianism. Sunnis have always viewed themselves as the political masters of Iraq, and their loss of power for the first time since the creation of Iraq in 1921, as well as in the region as a whole, was a loss too heavy to be accepted.
If April 2003 was the liberation month for the Iraqis, then it was Shia who displayed that liberation, as they were the first people amongst Iraqis to exercise their freedom openly–for the first time in more than a quarter century. Less than two weeks after American troops captured Baghdad and toppled Saddam’s statue in Firdos Square, masses of Iraqis left their houses and marched south, indifferent to the troops watching in bewilderment. This strange scene went almost unnoticed, unread and unanalyzed, and was eventually dismissed. But the liberation month coincided with the annual service of al-Arba’in, the commemoration of the death of Imam Hussein, one of the Shias’ holiest imams. The mourning rituals had been banned by the previous regime.
All over Baghdad and southern Iraq hundreds of thousands of people carrying green and black flags, some with written banners, and chanting religious songs took to the roads to the holy city of Karbala, where the shrines of Imam Hussein, the prophet’s grandson, and some other Shia imams are located. That journey, taken on foot, by a great mass of Shia (millions, according to a member of Karbala’s governing council), was the very first demonstrated parade of freedom in the post-Saddam Iraq. This symbolic pilgrimage represented a clear indication of what the future of Iraq would look like—Shia domination.
The rise of the Shia in post-2003 Iraq worried many neighbouring Sunni countries but the most worried were Iraqi Sunnis, especially after the disbanding of the army and the de-Baathification law, which led to the removal of most high ranking Baathist officials, banned from employment in the new government. Sunnis have always viewed themselves as the political masters of Iraq, and their loss of power for the first time since the creation of Iraq in 1921, as well as in the region as a whole, was a loss too heavy to be accepted. Most did not ascribe any legitimacy to the new rulers.
The sense of alienation and exclusion grew stronger amongst the Sunni population in the western provinces. From the beginning, Sunnis rejected the new political reality, refusing to take part in the political process, and boycotting the first democratic election in January 2005. Soon after 2003 former regime loyalists and tribesmen launched an insurgency. And the launching point was Fallujah, known as the city of minarets. That’s when and where al-Qaeda in Iraq stepped in, not to build alliances but to dominate the insurgency. That in 2006 and 2007 al-Qaeda, a terrorist—and to some extent foreign—group, was able rapidly to win the hearts and minds of most of the Sunni population and occupy a large swathe of Anbar province, especially Fallujah and the Sunni triangle, , was not due mainly to its Islamic ideology or military power but its perfect exploitation of the growing sense of victimhood within the Sunni community.
Although it extensively used anti-American resistance discourse, most of the insurgency operations did not target coalition forces or American occupiers as much crowded Shia markets, schools and neighborhoods. All the alliances that have been formed since 2004 between Sunnis–especially old Baath loyalists, former Saddam’s officers and some tribesmen–and al-Qaeda and later ISI, was based entirely on one crucial element–the rejection of the Shia government in Baghdad. Essentially, what has happened since 2003 can be defined as a major sectarian-identity war.
Whoever has read the Abbottabad letters and documents, which consists of 17 electronic, declassified documents captured during the US raid on Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May 2011, knows well that bin Laden was worried about al-Qaeda’s image, and that he along with his senior officials knew that the reputation of his organization had been damaged within the Islamic world. In Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries, al-Qaeda was gradually turning into a terrorist franchise business, with many groups operating under its license and using its jihadist trademark without any ties to its central command or obedience to its orders. And one of the groups that contributed to a distortion of an already shaky image was the Islamic State of Iraq.
But bin Laden was not fully aware that al-Zarqawi was building a powerful legacy, becoming more influential amongst a new jihadist generation–especially in Iraq. With recent events, he has especially proved his legacy is far deadlier than bin Laden’s. After pledging allegiance to al-Qaeda, al-Zarqawi (and later ISI followed in his footsteps), started to take the organization to a new level of extreme brutality, especially against Shia and Christians, by setting new hudud(Islamic punishment laws) and finding ways to transform terror to a new fiqh, (jurisprudence).
One of the Abbottabad letters (SOCOM-2012-0000004 Trans), written to bin Laden by the American Adam Yahiye Gadahn, believed to be his cultural interpreter and media advisor as well as supervisor of the As-Sahab Foundation for Islamic Media, compares ISI policies with those of the former US president George W. Bush, asking:
Isn’t this policy of (Islamic State of Iraq) exactly the same policy of Bush that rebuffed Europe and wise men of the world? Bush said either with us or with terrorists and did not leave any space for neutrality. This group in Iraq is telling the Christians either with us or with al-Maliki government and no space for neutrality, or either you pay the ‘Jizya’ (non-believer’s tax) to our fictitious state that cannot defend itself and has no chance of defending you or we will eliminate you [the original translation says we will destroy your goods.] Is this the justice we are talking about?
This letter was written in early 2011, after the infamous attack on the Catholic Church of Our Lady of Salvation in October 2010 in Baghdad and many other attacks on Christians there and in Mosul. And it asks whether the “al-Qaeda organization declares its discontent with this behavior and other behaviors being carried out by the so called Islamic State of Iraq”. Christians were however not the only victims of the horrifying ‘cleansing’ waged by al-Dawla: Yazidis, Mandaeans and other religious minorities were also targets but the Shia remained the most tempting.
Paroxysm of violence
After 2003 the Shia offered a perfect combination of the two images most abhorrent to ISI: religiously apostate and politically traitorous, collaborating with the American occupation. Rejecting Shia dominance in the new Iraq was the primary commonality around which the group built alliances with Iraqi Sunni factions.
The Shia had not governed an Arab state for centuries: the last Shia Arab seat of power was the Fatimid Caliphate from 909 to 1171 AD. The post-Saddam period represented a highly significant moment for all Shia; it meant political control over the land of Iraq, with its two holiest cities, Najaf and Karbala, core symbols of Shia religious narratives. Meanwhile, Sunnis could not acknowledge the political loss of Baghdad.
In its early stages the insurgency mostly targeted American troops. But with the involvement of al-Qaeda in 2004 and its increased sway, Shia more and more became the focus. The targets gradually expanded to include Shia holy sites and ordinary civilians in crowded markets and dense neighbourhoods. After 2003 the Shia offered a perfect combination of the two images most abhorrent to ISI: religiously apostate and politically traitorous, collaborating with the American occupation.
After the 2006 bombing of the al-Askari shrine in Samara–one of the holiest Shia sites–and with the declaration of ISI later that year, a full-scale, psychopathic civil war broke out in Baghdad and most of the mixed areas of Iraq. Both sides visited vengeance on each other’s populations, targeting hospitals, schools, mosques, funerals and so on.
At the height of the civil war between 2006 and 2008 Baghdad went through the most horrifying atrocities, committed by both sides, with ISI especially never hesitating to film most of its operations—particularly the beheadings and other executions—to amplify the impact of the terror felt by Shia audiences. The cleansing sectarian campaigns led to dramatic changes in the demographic shape of Baghdad, engendering devastating social divisions.
All non-Sunni citizens in this dawlah (state) were targets of ISI, especially those who were regarded as kufar (non-believers). Yazidis, considered by ISI devil-worshippers and heretics, were targeted more than once. In a single operation led by ISI in 2007 several truck bombs destroyed two Yazidi villages, killing around 800 people and wounding more than 1,500.
Gadahn’s letter to bin Laden goes beyond a declaration of discontent, understanding that the only way to reform al-Qaeda’s image was for the organization to “declare the cutoff of its organizational ties with that organization [ISI]”. Otherwise, he wrote, “its reputation will be damaged more and more as a result of the acts and statements of this group”.
But the declaration of cutting off ties with self-declared Islamic State of Iraq did not take place until three years later.
The Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) suffered great losses from 2008 onward, especially by the hand of some of its old Sunni tribal allies from the Sunni Awaking Councils in the western parts of Iraq. With aid from US military, they fought an Islamic State that was increasingly developing a brutal colonial-style state. Many experts believed that ISI had been crippled. By the time the US withdrew its forces in November of 2011, ISI had been turned into small, isolated cells. Although some expressed fear of a surge of new terror, ISI was believed to be “certainly weaker” and unlikely to regain its “prior strength”.
The Arab Spring, especially its Syrian autumn season, supplied the ISI with new strength, recovery tools and territories. The Syrian uprising in March 2011, which took a violent turn into a bloody sectarian war only a few months later, rescued a dying group that was losing territories in Anbar and Fallujah, and had just lost its leader, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, along with his high ranking deputy, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, in an American raid in 2010.
In August of 2011 the new amir of ISI, Abu Baker al-Baghdadi, sent his Syrian deputy Abu Muhamad al-Golani, who were both detained sometime after 2005 in Camp Bucca, unbeknownst to each other–to Syria to establish what would later be known as Jabhat al-Nusra li Ahal-asham (the Support Front for the People of Sham). And Sham here does not mean Syria, as has been often wrongly translated. Rather it refers to the Levant, which formed a large part of Ottoman Empire. Its territory consisted of what is known today as the southern Turkish province of Hatay, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Israel.
In the next few months al-Golani would succeed not only in attracting hard-core jihadists from all over the world, but also in turning his Jabhat al-Nusra into the most organized and aggressive force within the Free Syrian Army (FSA), its black al-Qaeda flag flown in many liberated areas. Al-Golani did his homework and knew his mission very well; besides fighting Assad’s regime, he was repairing al-Qaeda’s long-damaged and shaky reputation. On 11 December 2012, when the US State Department designated the entity as a ‘terrorist’ group, the Syrian opposition protested Washington’s decision. Many opposition groups, including civilians and secularists, condemned the decision and called for mass demonstration. Only three days later, a special Friday protest proclaimed that “we are all Jabhat al-Nusra”, and thousands of Syrians took to the streets condemning and denouncing the designation, chanting, “there is no terrorist in Syria but Assad”.
On 9 April 2013, a highly symbolic day for the Baathists as it coincided with the tenth anniversary of the end of four decades of Baath rule in Iraq, Abu Baker al-Baghdadi expanded his Islamic State, appropriating Syria and all other Levant countries. Declaring in an audiotape that Jabhat al-Nusra is “extension of the Islamic State of Iraq and part of it”, al-Baghdadi deputized al-Golani as “one of our soldiers, and with him a group of our sons, and we pushed them from Iraq to the Levant so as to meet our cells in the Levant.” In the end of his speech al-Baghdadi declared the merger between both groups and changed the name toal-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa-Sham–Da’aish, or the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), now more commonly known as ISIS. By adding the Levant, al-Baghdadi took the first step towards demolishing the officially recognized colonial borders of Sykes-Picot and achieving what pan-Arab nationalists, including Baathists, have dreamt of and brawled for in their loud, vicious discourses throughout the twentieth century, from Syria’s Michel Aflaq and Egypt’s Jamal Abdul Nasir to Iraq’s Saddam Hussain. al-Baghdadi’s speech played straight into the classic rhetoric of pan-Arabism and anti-imperialism that regards evil hands dividing the ummah (nation) by drawing artificial borders, and was a direct incitement of the Arab political imagination
The next day al-Golani publicly rejected the merger and the new name, pledging his elegance instead to Ayman al-Zawahri, theamir of al-Qaeda. It took some time for al-Zawahari to interfere and respond to the feud. While al-Baghdadi was in the process of paving the way to establish his caliphate, planning to demolish colonial borders, al-Zawahri sent a letter dated 23 May (and later a released audiotape) to both leaders, ruling against the merger, dissolving ISIL and asking both leaders to confine their operations to their own country: “the [seat] of the Islamic State in Iraq is Iraq” and “the [seat] of the Support Front for the People of al-Sham is in Syria.” al-Baghdadi responded saying that ISIL was here to stay and would continue removing borders set by “malignant hands between Islamic countries to restrict our movements” until it hammered “the last nail in the coffin of Sykes-Picot conspiracy.”
Al-Baghdadi’s speech played straight into the classic rhetoric of pan-Arabism and anti-imperialism that regards evil hands dividing the ummah (nation) by drawing artificial borders, and was a direct incitement of the Arab political imagination, which has long dreamt and chanted of one Arab nation from the Atlantic Ocean to the Arabian Sea. One year later in a stunning, well-produced and highly professional video released after capturing of Mosul and some other western Sunni Iraqi cities, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the official spokesperson of ISIL surmounts a bulldozer and, in a extremely symbolic move, demolishes the borders between Iraq and Syria on the ground, taking pride in removing “the borders of humiliations” and breaking the “idol of nationalism.”
The feud soon turned into a bloody war between jihadist brothers in Syria and resulted in a devastating blow to Jabhat al-Nusra. Many fighters, especially foreign jihadists, defected from al-Nusra to join ISIL. By early 2014 ISIL was fighting more than one front in Syria: fighting al-Nusra, other Islamist brigades such as the Islamic Army, the Kurds, the FSA and Bashar al-Assad’s regime, plus its continued fight against the Shia-led government in Iraq.
ISIL waged a brutal war, crushing anyone who attempted to stand against it and committing horrific atrocities. One of the deadliest weapons ISIL has used since its early stages is its huge array of horrendous visual material recording its barbaric acts, with which its fighters flood social media. al-Zarqawi first pioneered the visual horror in Iraq, filming the beheading of American Nick Berg in 2004. Less than a decade later, the real visual horror–unlike imaginative post-apocalyptic Hollywood films–has been taken to the extreme by the next generation. These materials have shaped the popular public image of ISIL, and made its notorious parent, al-Qaeda, look much more moderate.
In February 2014 al-Zawahri implemented Adam Gadahn’s 2011 recommendations by disowning ISIL and declaring that it “is not a branch of al-Qaeda, has no connections to it, and al-Qaeda is not responsible for its actions”.
The powerful resurgence: declaration of dawlat al-caliphate
What happened on 10 June in Mosul and why Iraq’s second-largest city fell without fighting, as if the city was handed over to ISIL, remains uncertain. However, there was one clear element in the whole puzzled scene of ISIL’s blitzkrieg southern advance without any military resistance–the formation of alliances between ISIL, Sunni tribesmen and the Iraqi Baathists.
The Arab Baath, especially the Sunni Iraqi branch, and the Islamic State certainly have many things in common; toppling the Shia-led government in Iraq is only one of them. They are both highly nostalgic towards the past, looking back at it with admiration and ideological attempts to revive it–Baath, or resurrection, tries to resurrect the glorious past of the Arabs. They both resent what represents modernity, especially in regard to language and terminology. They are both fascists using terror as a central political tool to control societies. And most importantly, they both use a totalitarian media in which there is a high level of demagogy and dramatization in representing the self and the ‘other’ or the ‘enemy’, where the self is always righteous and the other is aberrant and wrong, who will eventually find their way back from aberration to what is right and true.
The political and religious rejection of Shia rule, fueled by Sunni grievances of political marginalization and unjust treatment alongside the failed, sectarian government in Baghdad, was more than enough to build a strong coalition between ISIL and armed groups of former Baath party members, former Iraqi army officers and Sunni tribe leaders. Lack of a pragmatic, powerful Shia politician in Baghdad lent public strength to ISIL. The powerful rise of ISIL in both Syria and Iraq symbolizes not only the failure of two post-colonial national states but also represents a clear manifestation of fragmented social groups...which have failed to co-exist and transcend their confinement in these narrow identities
The relationship between Baathists and ISIL goes back to the early stages of insurgency. The former regime’s loyalists, especially high ranked military officers and Baathists civilians who were subject to the de-Baathification law, started joining the insurgency and later al-Qaeda in Iraq soon after the US invasion. Between 2004 and 2006 al-Qaeda managed to build an extensive network within Sunni-dominant territories. What ISIL did in June 2014 was to re-evoke and revive the early warm relationship between al-Qaeda and the Sunni insurgency that lasted passionately between early 2004 and the end of 2007. ISIL differentiates between Baathists in Syria and in Iraq; it always considered Baathists in Iraq as Sunnis who share the same religious traditions, beliefs and practices, unlike the Baath in Syria who are controlled by Alwaites, a minority Shia sect.
These relations were never fully eliminated even when the major Sunni tribes, former allies, turned against ISI in 2007. Although there were cooling-off periods on both sides at different times, there were always shifting, temporary, and partial revivals of these networks. These relations were revived in 2014 amongst increasing anger and protests within Sunni populations, especially in Anbar province on the Syrian border, against the Iraqi government who“squandered an opportunity” when they failed to demonstrate the required pragmatism. That is, when the Sunnis came together and waged a war against ISI, cleansing most of their areas of ISI and foreign-fighter jihadists–with no help from the government. With their acute sense of exclusion in the post-Saddam Iraq, Sunnis felt they had been betrayed by Nouri al-Maliki.
ISIL stormed Mosul with the cooperation of at least seven Sunni groups: the Military Council, the Army of Men of Naqshbandi Order–known as JRTN, led by former Iraqi vice president Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri–, the Mujahedeen Army, the Council of the Tribal Revolutionaries, and other groups which had fought intermittently since 2003 alongside al-Zarqawi and then al-Qaeda, and later the umbrella of ISI. The Sunnis saw what happened as a liberation operation from a repressive sectarian Shia regime, while the Shia looked at it as a massive conspiracy against their existence.
On 29 June al-Baghdadi declared the Caliphate State and the name changed to the Islamic State (IS). Calls were issued by the amir ul-mu’minin for ummah of Islam in the world to migrate to the dawlat al-Islam after the world had been divided into two camps: the camp of Islam and the camp of kufr (disbelievers.)
With the declaration of a Sunni Caliphate Islamic State over a great stretch of territories in Syria and Iraq, the religious and sectarian cleansing campaigns reached their highest degree of cruelty in order to purify the state from all non-Sunni citizens. Yazidis, Shia and other minorities were subjected to slaughter and mass executions, with their women being taken as sabaya (slaves)–‘spoils’ of war–and sold in Mosul. After seizing Mosul, an ultimatum was issued to Christians: pay jizya (tribute), or leave or be killed. What IS committed against all non-Sunnis was full-scale genocide. A few days after IS seized control of Speicher base in Tikrit, they released photos and videos of mass execution of Shia soldiers. Sunni soldiers were let go after declaring their repentance.
The powerful rise of this group in both Syria and Iraq symbolizes not only the failure of two post-colonial national states but also represents a clear manifestation of fragmented social groups with a strong sense of belonging to tribes, sects, religions and ethnicity, which have failed to co-exist and transcend their confinement in these narrow identities to structure a society in its modern context and form. The cancerous expansion of ISIL’s phenomena is a pure product of failed societies, of groups refusing to learn how to structure a dialogue using language, and in their terrible failure exchanging nothing but death.
International déjà vu
11 September 2014 was somehow reminiscent of 11 September 2001. After a presidential speech by Barack Obama on IS presenting his strategy of degrading and ultimately destroying it, reminiscent of former president George W. Bush’s vow of destroying al-Qaeda, the world was once again concerned by a jihadist group’s powerful comeback. And once again America busily recruited an international coalition to combat yet another jihadist-terrorist organization, this time a self-declared Islamic State.
But despite the wide coalition of more than 40 of the most powerful countries in the world, and the heavenly war waged from the skies, the caliph and his devoted soldiers seem to be determined to demolish borders, destroy colonially-made countries and expand their Islamic State.
Now the state of the Sunni caliphate controls most of northern Syria and large parts of western Iraq, and is moving towards the gates of Baghdad. Its radical army is estimated to be more than 30,000, led by well-trained generals from Saddam’s army, and is heavily engaged in its territories in Syria and Iraq with governance programs, such as implementing Shari’a law, collecting tax, distribution of aid and salaries, hudud enforcement and many other administrative and legal programs. It has an estimated USD $3m daily revenue from its own resources such as oil and gas, and it has approved its 2015 annual budget of $USD 2 billion.
The world has been introduced to one of the most violent states that operates based on a one-dimensional interpretation of debatable texts and controversial Quranic verses, and states clearly that its aim is to convert the entire world into a Sunni religion of 1400 years ago.
A bizarre new Middle East is taking shape, and we are now witnessing the disintegration of two countries. Syria and Iraq are both nearing their slow bloody end, the death of two societies which long bragged of historical co-existence and cohesion. In their places and on their ruins, one powerful Sunni caliphate is rising, like the founding father of the group, Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi, dreamt of during his journey from Afghanistan to Iraq more than a decade ago.
This article was republished from OpenDemocracy.net.