SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association) – Soon after the younger President Bush ordered U.S. troops to invade Iraq in 2003, extremist Muslims in Iraq and Syria, also characterized as jihadists, decided to organize and fight for an Islamic state in the Middle East to which Western media often referred to as Isis. The governments of the U.S., Britain, Australia, Canada, and Saudi Arabia opposed this development and called those jihadists a terrorist organization.
Isis was preceded by a variety of Sunni Arab terrorists, including al-Qaida in Iraq from 2003 to 2006, the Mujahideen Shura Council in 2006, and since then the Islamic State of Iraq. Other insurgent groups also profess Sunni Islam. Isis’ adherents have recently been estimated to include some 50,000 Syrians and 30,000 Iraqis.
Isis claims religious authority over Muslims worldwide and wants to bring much of the Muslim-inhabited regions of the world under its political control. Ideologically, the group opposes the Shia sect of Islam but allows Wahhabism and Salafist Jihadism. The disagreement between Sunnis and Shias dates back to A.D. 632, when the two main Muslim groups split over who should lead them after the Prophet Mohammed died. Today the differences between them is about religion, politics, and boundaries. The vast majority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are Sunni, predominantly in Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Shia Muslims who dominate in Iran and Iraq are actually a tiny minority overall.
Under its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Isis grew strongly during its involvement in the Syrian civil war. Allegations of discrimination against Iraqi Sunnis since the fall of Saddam Hussein helped the group to gain support. At the height of the war between 2003 and 2011, Sunnis got strongly involved in governing the provinces of Al Anbar, Niniveh, and Kirkuk, while they claimed Baqubah as a capital city. Isis continues to have a strong presence in the Syrian districts of Ar-Raqqah, Idlib, and Aleppo.
Where Isis controls an area, it orders the people to acknowledge the creed of Islam under the penalty of death, torture or mutilation, and to live according to Isis’ interpretation of Sunni Islam and sharia law. It may also commit violence against Shiites, Syriac and Armenian Christians, Druze and Mandeans. In Iraq Isis has an estimated 4,000 fighters in its ranks who, in addition to attacks on government and military targets, have claimed responsibility for the killing of some thousands of civilians. Isis’ original aim was to establish a caliphate in the Sunni-majority regions of Iraq.
As recently as June 29, Isis proclaimed from its headquarters in the Syrian city of Ar-Raqqah to have adopted the status of a caliphate, an Islamic state, to be expanded worldwide and led by a supreme leader, a caliph — i.e., “successor”— to Muhammad. The Sunni branch of Islam stipulates that as a head of state, a caliph should be elected by Muslims or their representatives. Shiites, however, believe a caliph should be an Imam chosen by Allah (God) from the Ahl al Bayt (Muhammad’s direct descendants). The caliph chosen by Sunnis two months ago is Abu Bakr al-Baghdad, who now is known as Amir al-Mu’minin Caliph Ibrahim.