The self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) appears like the proverbial bull breaking loose in a sectarian china shop. This presents the real risk of smashing Iraq’s uneasy balance of assorted communities.
ISIL took Fallujah in January — roughly 70 kilometres west of Baghdad.
Since the start of its bigger offensive, it has expanded its triumphant to along Iraq’s border with Syria and in Nineveh province in the north, seizing its capital Mosul; ISIL claims control from Raqqa in Syria to the gates of Baghdad.
This translates into a swelling confidence, proclaiming a caliphate it promises will stretch from the Mediterranean Sea all the way to Iran. A caliphate is an Islamic state under a supreme religious and political leader known as a caliph.
ISIL is considered more violent and brutal than al Qaeda, while sharing its ideology of holy war (jihad) and a determination to scratch out largely western-imposed borders of long standing and reimpose its own order.
According to the field-oriented geopolitical research initiative the Brookings Doha Centre, ISIL has up to seven thousand men in Syria and up to six thousand in Iraq.
The jihadists are also among those with the best access to wealth in the world. Today’s lightning conquest is largely down to strategic use of money, says Firas Abi Ali of MENA Country Risk at IHS.
“ISIL’s funding definitely helps it establish itself and gain more territory, it helps it buy loyalties, it helps it pay various government workers to ensure that they show up, it helps it bribe other groups so that they pledge allegiance to it. They have access to funding through their control of a number of energy fields in Syria. They’ve also been able to extort money from businesses in cities in Iraq.”
ISIL has put all the region’s countries on red alert. Jordan is taking the ‘caliphate’ threat very seriously.
ISIL doesn’t have open support from a particular country, but experts say most of its individual sponsors are in the Gulf states.