Our new Iraq-watcher describes how Sunni extremists chose a new "caliph." And a rash of Iraqi jailbreaks may have hastened Saddam's executionby Nibras Kazimi / February 25, 2007 / Leave a comment
The man who would be caliph
Many global jihadis talk about restoring the Islamic (read: Sunni) caliphate, but little has been done to pick a caliph—until recently. In October the world was introduced to the candidate as the head of the “Islamic state of Iraq”—otherwise known as the Sunni triangle. Then a month later, the new chief of “al Qaeda in Mesopotamia,” Abu Hamza al-Muhajir (called Abu Ayyub al-Masri by US intelligence) declared his allegiance to the newly founded “state” and its leader.
We have no photo of the new champion, nor a real name: just a voice and an alleged pedigree. The would-be caliph’s pseudonym is Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, and in public announcements he or his spin doctors are pushing his descent from Muhammad’s tribe of Quraysh. The name is significant: “Omar” is provocatively Sunni, referring to the second caliph after the Prophet, and “al-Baghdadi” sends the signal that the time has come to relocate the caliphate to the place of its most glorious epoch: Iraq.
On 22nd December, an audio tape containing al-Baghdadi’s inaugural speech was released on jihadi websites, including several linked to al Qaeda, introducing al-Baghdadi as Prince of the Faithful—a title historically the exclusive prerogative of caliphs. Al Qaeda had previously addressed the Taliban’s chief, Mullah Omar, by that title, but never with any caliphal connotation. With al-Baghdadi, however, coupling the claim of Qurayshite lineage—a requisite for caliphs—with the title heralds a wholly different interpretation. Al-Baghdadi is clearly being groomed by al Qaeda as the temporal leader of the Muslim world.
Osama bin Laden, not a Qurayshi, must console himself with the title of Sheikh of the Mujahedin, bestowed upon him by al-Baghdadi. Whereas jihadists of the Bin Laden generation and before had been avoiding choosing a caliph so as not to highlight tensions within the movement, the present generation of jihadists in Iraq—an avant-garde of sorts for the global movement—is forcing the issue of selecting a caliph, a proper Qurayshite this time, come what may. History tells us this much: there will be dissent over this nomination, and bloodshed in its wake. With Saddam gone, Iraq’s Sunnis are desperately seeking to fill a leadership vacuum, which may explain al-Baghdadi’s hurry.
And what explains the Iraqi government’s hurry to hang Saddam? It may have had something to do with recent prison breaks by senior Sunni Arabs. However unlikely a Saddam…