Fierce fighting raged yesterday in the Iraqi city of Tikrit, as the country’s military struggled to dislodge an al Qaeda splinter group, after its leader was declared caliph of a new Islamic state in lands seized across a swathe of Iraq and Syria.
Alarming regional and world powers – and briefly causing a spike in oil prices – the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis) claimed control, declaring its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi caliph of the Muslim world, a title last used by the Ottoman empire which collapsed after the First World War.
“He is the imam and caliph for Muslims everywhere,” group spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani said in an online statement on Sunday, using titles that carry religious and civil power.
The move, at the start of the holy month of Ramadan, follows a drive for territory by Isil militants and allies among Iraqi’s Sunni Muslim minority. The caliphate aims to erase colonial-era borders and defy the US- and Iranian-backed government of Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad.
It also poses a direct challenge to the global leadership of al Qaeda, which disowned Isis, and to conservative Gulf Arab Sunni rulers, who originally funded the group but now view it as a threat.
Meanwhile, Brent crude extended last week’s losses, dropping below $113 a barrel today, as the conflict in Iraq, has had no effect on the country’s crude output.