2 July 2014
Last updated at 11:20
The radical al-Qaeda offshoot Isis has told other Sunni rebel groups which joined the uprising in Iraq to swear an oath of allegiance and give up arms.
The group declared a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria it controls and changed its name to the Islamic State.
Other rebel groups are trapped between the Islamic State which has taken over their areas, and a Shia-dominated government they are fighting against.
The Islamic State has suppressed other groups in parts of Syria it controls.
It has imposed a monopoly of its rule, by force if need be.
Most recently, it took over the important town of al-Bu Kamal controlling the Syrian side of the main border crossing with Iraq after three days of violent clashes with other Syrian rebel groups. It is now reported to be manning checkpoints and detaining suspected rivals.
Now, the same process of monopolising control seems to be under way in Iraq.
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We will not take the oath of allegiance, and we will not hand over our weapons – we will hide them”
Senior Sunni rebel source
The other Sunni rebel groups, made up of former Iraqi military personnel, tribal elements and adherents of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party, face a dilemma.
Tribal and rebel military sources say that after two days of talks in Mosul, they have been told that they must take an oath of allegiance to the new caliphate, and that only fighters from the Islamic State are allowed to bear arms.
Even if they take the oath, other fighters will still have to hand in their weapons.
As one senior rebel source put it, “our revolution has been hijacked”.
But he said the other groups did not intend to engage in what they believed would be a losing battle with the Islamic State, which is rapidly consolidating its grip on the mainly Sunni areas that fell to its advance three weeks ago.
The non-Isis rebels are dismayed, and bitter that the Americans, who are giving $500m (£290m) to similar rebel groups in Syria, regard them as terrorists because they joined the insurgency against the US forces here, but later fought and expelled al-Qaeda.
Isis ‘too strong’
The Islamic State’s move to monopolise power in the Sunni parts of Iraq is a bonus for the government in Baghdad, since it removes Iraqi political cover from the insurgency on the ground.
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It [the caliphate] is not in the interest of Iraq and its unity now, and will be taken as an excuse to partition the country and harm the people”
Association of Muslim Scholars of Iraq
“We will not take the oath of allegiance, and we will not hand over our weapons – we will hide them,” said a senior Sunni rebel source.
“But we can’t fight Isis, it is too strong and it would be a losing battle. We give in. But we will remain active in Baghdad, where Isis doesn’t have a presence.”
The self-styled caliph of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has issued a call for jihadists around the world to flock to Syria and Iraq to fight and help build the state.
It is not just a question of recruiting sufficient fighters to help consolidate control of the large swathes of territory Isis seized in the past three weeks in Iraq.
Sources say large numbers of young men are being recruited locally for around $500 (£290) a month. They are given two weeks’ military training and two weeks’ Islamic education before being deployed.
But if the caliphate project is to take root, it will need administrators and experts in many fields, whom Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is clearly hoping will flood to heed his call.
Isis is consolidating its hold on power in the parts of Syria and Iraq which it controls
Differences with other Iraq Sunni groups broke surface with a statement from the Association of Muslim Scholars of Iraq (Amsi) strongly criticising the decision to announce a caliphate, and calling for it to be rescinded.
“Those who announced it did not consult the sons of Iraq, or their leaders,” said Amsi, which gives political guidance to the non-Isis rebels.
“It is not in the interest of Iraq and its unity now, and will be taken as an excuse to partition the country and harm the people.”
“The prerequisites for success need to be prepared – failure will rebound on everybody. None of this has been done, so the oath of allegiance and this situation are not binding on anyone.”
Within hours of the statement being posted, Amsi’s website was hacked by the Islamic State which posted messages and pictures mocking Amsi’s leader and dismissing the group as “the Association of Muslim Surrenderers”.
The longer the Islamic State consolidates its grip, the more difficult it will clearly be to dislodge it.
Residents in the Sunni areas who have not yet fled face the horrific prospect of an open-ended and increasingly sectarian war, with Iran and even the Americans becoming more and more involved as it intensifies.
The strategy many Iraqi politicians, the Americans and others favoured, was to correct the faults of the Shia-dominated central government in Baghdad sufficiently to draw Sunni moderates into the political process and thus undermine and isolate the Isis radicals.
The Iraqi government says that it is determined to stop the Isis advance, and on Tuesday took possession of Russian Sukhoi Su-25 fighter planes
Then, the theory goes, non-Isis Sunni fighting forces would turn against the militants, with help from the Kurdish Peshmerga, whatever remains of the Iraqi Army, the Americans and others.
But the apparent collapse of the other Sunni groups makes that scenario look less plausible.
They feel isolated and friendless. Their leaders say they would like help from the Americans, but Washington sees them as terrorists, not making the distinction in Iraq that it has made in Syria between Islamist rebel groups and the Isis radicals.
In the meantime, there are concerns for the fate of minority communities in Islamic State-ruled areas, such as the Yazidis and Shia.
There are also fears that if the Islamic State takes over the big oil refinery at Baiji, it might want to seize the Kurdish-controlled oilfields in Kirkuk province to provide fuel for the refinery.
What is a caliphate?
- An Islamic state ruled by a single political and religious leader, or Caliph
- Caliphs are regarded by their followers as successors to the Prophet Muhammad and the leader of all Muslims
- First caliphate came into being after Muhammad’s death in 632
- In the centuries which followed, caliphates had dominion in the Middle East and North Africa
- The last widely accepted caliphate was abolished in 1924 by Turkish leader Kemal Ataturk after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire
- The Ahmadiyya sect of Islam has recognised a caliphate for the last century, but it is only this group that does so