The current crisis in Iraq reached new heights on Sunday as the ruthless Sunni extremist group, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), declared it’s recently acquired territory an Islamic Caliphate. ISIS spokesman, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, released a statement online defining the boundaries of this new territory, which covers the vast border region of northern Syria across to the region of Diyala in north-eastern Iraq. In the same statement, the group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was instated as Caliph, a title not used formally since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire but one that effectively declares al-Baghdadi religious and political ruler.
The New Islamic State: From ISIS to IS
It’s a characteristically bold move by an organisation that wants to establish itself formally in a region within which it has caused chaos. However, al-Baghdadi’s claim to Caliph has many religious implications that could see him at odds with other extremely violent Islamic factions, including al-Qaeda. This move may well be a declaration of war upon these rival fundamentalist groups, as ISIS continues to brand itself the caliphate Islamic State (IS), but the faction continues to draw on Muslims internationally to recognise its legitimacy and authority with it’s powerful digital campaigns.
Regionally, reception of the new Islamic State is less impassioned. Even within Sunni Islam for example, Grand Mufti of Egypt dismissed the caliphate as an “illusion”. IS promise to be intolerant of all theological and ideological disagreements it encounters, even from Muslim sources.
The Blair Solution
In the west, former British prime minister Tony Blair has been increasingly vocal about the conflict since mid-June. He reflected on the IS announcement as possibly one of the most notable extremist actions since 9/11, a “political and malign” result of western inaction in Syria, 2011. The former prime minister was the head of government when US and UK forces entered Iraq to overthrow dictator Saddam Hussein over a decade ago. The conflict took place on the back of controversially unfounded claims that Saddam Hussein had both affiliations with al-Qaeda and weapons of mass destruction.
Echoing the political sentiments that he used in 2003 to justify western military action, Blair said, “where extremists are fighting, they have to be countered hard with force.” He denied on his website that the military action that was the Iraq war had caused the current situation but pointed to a range of complicated regional issues. According to Blair, who is not advocating a land campaign like that of 2003, the western powers should maintain and protect the sovereignty of Syria and Iraq against IS using airstrikes and drone attacks.
A Legacy of Violence
There are some who have been critical of the politician however. Sir Christopher Meyer, who was ambassador to the US leading up to Blair’s deployment of troops, claimed the war against Hussein was “perhaps the most significant reason” for what was currently happening. In a recent newspaper article he wrote, “…we are reaping what we sowed in 2003. This is not hindsight. We knew in the run-up to war that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein would seriously destabilise Iraq after 24 years of his iron rule.” Meyer goes on to compare Blair’s current call to the “doctrine of intervention” with his 1999 speech in Chicago, which became a “philosophical underpinning for Britain’s invasion of Iraq”. Meyer then urged the people of Britain to “consign the Blair doctrine to the dustbin of history”.
While many are already dismissive of Blair, his comments come at a time when international heavyweights are unsure exactly how to deal with the situation. As US aircraft carriers edge ever closer to the chaotic region, this “doctrine of intervention” is being peddled once again by the prime minister branded a ‘war criminal’ by protesters that opposed the Iraq war. Blair’s opportunistic revisionism of recent history seems more like an attempt at self-exoneration, to wash his hands of today’s conflict, than anything else.
Regardless of idle talk, recent videos from IS show fighters vowing to “break other borders”, “liberate Palestine” and usher in “a new era of international jihad”. It seems that while Blair defends his past actions and the UK government confirms it will not be intervening at present, IS have no desire to slow their battle or look to the past as they brutally establish the future of their new caliphate.