Iraq: “new caliphate” established?

Even Bush appears to be facing the grim music from Iraq. Asked in an ABC News interview Oct. 18 whether he agreed with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s opinion that the violence in Iraq was “the jihadist equivalent of the Tet offensive,” Bush responded: “He could be right. There’s certainly a stepped-up level of violence, and we’re heading into an election.” Attacks in Iraq killed about 40 people on Oct 19. The death toll for US troops rose to 72 for October, which could become one of their deadliest months in two years. (, Oct. 20) Iraq’s interior minister, Jawad al Bolani, has pledged to purge his offices of sectarian influence, but this has failed to stem the escalating violence. (NYT, Oct. 14) Recent proposals by Washington to partition Iraq may be merely accepting a fait accompli. The south already appears to be a Shi’ite sectarian zone in Iran’s orbit, and the north is de facto an independent Kurdish state. All that remains is for a Taliban-style Sunni theocracy to be declared in the center. This Oct. 16 report from Britain’s The Herald indicates this may have already come to pass:

A militant group that includes al Qaeda in Iraq announced yesterday it had established an Islamic state in Iraq.

The claim, released in a videotape, was immediately discounted by Iraq’s parliament speaker.

The Mujahedeen Shura Council – an umbrella organisation of insurgent groups in Iraq – said in the video that the new state was made up of six provinces including Baghdad that have large Sunni populations and parts of two other provinces south of the capital that are predominantly Shi’ite.

Iraqi insurgents are not known to control any territory, although Iraqi forces are known to avoid night patrols in some areas such as the Anbar province because they are too dangerous. The US military, meanwhile, does not place restrictions on where it operates in the country.

The authenticity of the eight-minute video, which was posted on an internet website commonly used by insurgents, could not immediately be verified. “We bring you good news of the founding and the formation of the Islamic Iraqi State . . . to protect our people,” said a man identified in the video as the group’s spokesman who wore a traditional Arab robe and had his face blocked.

Iraqi Parliament Speaker Mahmoud al Mashhadani, a Sunni, criticised the video. “Those who believe in this council are ignorant, and those who follow it are foolish. This council caused the sectarian conflict as well, displacing both Shi’ite and Sunni,” Mr al Mashhadani told Al Jazeera television.

In the video, the group’s spokesman was said the state was formed at the insistence of Sunnis in Iraq, but he lashed out at what he called “Sunni traitors” who have joined Iraq’s Shi’ite-led government.

The spokesman called on Sunnis to pledge their allegiance to the new government and its leader, whom he said was Abu Omar al Baghdadi. The Mujahedeen Shura Council’s leader is a man known as Abdullah bin Rashid al Baghdadi.

Isam Al Rawi, a member of Iraq’s major Sunni clerical organisation the Association of Muslims Scholars, told Al Jazeera the Mujahedeen Shura Council represents a small part of Iraqi Sunnis and “therefore are not authorised to speak about such a topic”.

The savage Sunni Arab and al Qaeda insurgency that first shoved Iraq toward chaos three years ago clearly had taken a back seat yesterday to the growing sectarian bloodletting that is now ravaging the country in its spiral toward – if not deeper into – civil war.

American analysts such as Anthony H Cordesman, of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, and Dennis Ross, a Mid-East peace negotiator, say major policy changes are necessary.

“Iraq is already in a state of serious civil war. The current efforts at political compromise and improved security at best are buying time. There is a critical risk that Iraq will drift into a major civil conflict over the coming months, see its present government fail, and/or divide and separate in some form,” Mr Cordesman wrote last week.

Mr Ross said the best solution was the formation of a federal state, with Shi’ites, Sunnis and Kurds running areas where they are majorities.

This recalls last year’s reports that Sunni insurgents had declared Islamic kingdoms in the areas they had “liberated.”

It also recalls a December 2004 report from the US National Intelligence Council, Mapping the Global Future, which included a section entitled “Fictional Scenario: A New Caliphate“:

The fictional scenario portrayed below provides an example of how a global movement fueled by radical religious identity could emerge. Under this scenario, a new Caliphate is proclaimed and manages to advance a powerful counter ideology that has widespread appeal. It is depicted in the form of a hypothetical letter from a fictional grandson of Bin Ladin to a family relative in 2020. He recounts the struggles of the Caliph in trying to wrest control from traditional regimes and the conflict and confusion which ensue both within the Muslim world and outside between Muslims and the United States, Europe, Russia and China. While the Caliph’s success in mobilizing support varies, places far outside the Muslim core in the Middle East—in Africa and Asia—are convulsed as a result of his appeals. The scenario ends before the Caliph is able to establish both spiritual and temporal authority over a territory—which historically has been the case for previous Caliphates.

This scenario isn’t necessarily all that “fictional.” Der Spiegel of Aug. 12, 2005 ran a story by reporter Yassin Musharbash on a new book by Jordanian journalist Fouad Hussein, who had spent time in prison with  Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and established contact with many of al-Qaeda’s leaders. Based on correspondence with these sources, he has now brought out a book detailing the organization’s master plan. The book,  Al-Zarqawi: al-Qaida’s Second Generation reveals the long-term global strategy, as outlined by Musharbash:

An Islamic Caliphate in Seven Easy Steps

In the introduction, the Jordanian journalist writes, “I interviewed a whole range of al-Qaida members with different ideologies to get an idea of how the war between the terrorists and Washington would develop in the future.” What he then describes between pages 202 and 213 is a scenario, proof both of the terrorists’ blindness as well as their brutal single-mindedness. In seven phases the terror network hopes to establish an Islamic caliphate which the West will then be too weak to fight.

The First Phase: Known as “the awakening” — this has already been carried out and was supposed to have lasted from 2000 to 2003, or more precisely from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in New York and Washington to the fall of Baghdad in 2003. The aim of the attacks of 9/11 was to provoke the US into declaring war on the Islamic world and thereby “awakening” Muslims. “The first phase was judged by the strategists and masterminds behind al-Qaida as very successful,” writes Hussein. “The battle field was opened up and the Americans and their allies became a closer and easier target.” The terrorist network is also reported as being satisfied that its message can now be heard “everywhere.”

The Second Phase: “Opening Eyes” is, according to Hussein’s definition, the period we are now in and should last until 2006. Hussein says the terrorists hope to make the western conspiracy aware of the “Islamic community.” Hussein believes this is a phase in which al-Qaida wants an organization to develop into a movement. The network is banking on recruiting young men during this period. Iraq should become the center for all global operations, with an “army” set up there and bases established in other Arabic states.

The Third Phase: This is described as “Arising and Standing Up” and should last from 2007 to 2010. “There will be a focus on Syria,” prophesies Hussein, based on what his sources told him. The fighting cadres are supposedly already prepared and some are in Iraq. Attacks on Turkey and — even more explosive — in Israel are predicted. Al-Qaida’s masterminds hope that attacks on Israel will help the terrorist group become a recognized organization. The author also believes that countries neighboring Iraq, such as Jordan, are also in danger.

The Fourth Phase: Between 2010 and 2013, Hussein writes that al-Qaida will aim to bring about the collapse of the hated Arabic governments. The estimate is that “the creeping loss of the regimes’ power will lead to a steady growth in strength within al-Qaida.” At the same time attacks will be carried out against oil suppliers and the US economy will be targeted using cyber terrorism.

The Fifth Phase: This will be the point at which an Islamic state, or caliphate, can be declared. The plan is that by this time, between 2013 and 2016, Western influence in the Islamic world will be so reduced and Israel weakened so much, that resistance will not be feared. Al-Qaida hopes that by then the Islamic state will be able to bring about a new world order.

The Sixth Phase: Hussein believes that from 2016 onwards there will a period of “total confrontation.” As soon as the caliphate has been declared the “Islamic army” it will instigate the “fight between the believers and the non-believers” which has so often been predicted by Osama bin Laden.

The Seventh Phase: This final stage is described as “definitive victory.” Hussein writes that in the terrorists’ eyes, because the rest of the world will be so beaten down by the “one-and-a-half billion Muslims,” the caliphate will undoubtedly succeed. This phase should be completed by 2020, although the war shouldn’t last longer than two years.

We may now be well on our way to this future—thanks (paradoxically?) to George Bush.

See our last posts on Iraq and the Zarqawi legacy.

  1. A glimmer of hope…
    From UPI, Oct. 19:

    Iraq Sunni, Shiite clerics to urge unity

    RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Iraqi Sunni and Shiite clerics agreed on a draft document barring sectarian killing, displacement, and aggression on Muslim and non-Muslim worship places.

    The “Mecca Document,” which calls for narrowing the gap between Sunnis and Shiites, warned against the “great dangers of committing sectarian crimes” that place Iraq on the edge of an all-out civil war.

    The document’s draft, which was secured by United Press International Thursday, includes 10 clauses backed by Koranic verses and explanations, calling basically for ending the bloodbath in Iraq.

    The document stressed “the vital necessity to adhere to national and Islamic unity and protect it against divisions and attempts to lodge a wedge among Iraqis.”

    It considered “sectarian crimes as the greatest evil barred by the Koran” and rejected exchange of accusations and slander between Sunnis and Shiites.

    The document also called for releasing innocent prisoners and all hostages, be them Muslims or non-Muslims, and returning all displaced Iraqis to their original homes.

    The Iraqi clerics also urged the Iraqi government “to release innocent prisoners and secure honest and just trial for criminal suspects in addition to imposing harsh sentences to act as a deterrent for others.

    “Sunnis and Shiites should stand in the same rank for the sake of Iraq’s independence, unity and territorial integrity and work together on ending foreign occupation and rebuilding the country’s economic, political and military capacities with the aim of securing Iraq’s independence,” the draft said.

    The Iraqi clerics are expected to hold meetings in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday and Friday at the invitation of the Organization of Islamic Conference, which launched an urgent initiative aimed at putting an end to sectarian Sunni-Shiite strife in Iraq.