His real name is unknown, but his alias Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi makes clear his desire to be Caliph (Khalifa) of a new Caliphate (Khilafa) situated in Iraq and Syria. Abu Bakr was the first Caliph following the death of Mohammed when the Caliphate system was created by the top level followers of Islam, Mohammed’s military commanders and close confidantes, as a way to decide how to keep the religious, political, social, economic, and military empire building of Islam moving forward after the “prophet”‘s death. Abu Bakr, Mohammed’s father-in-law and father of Mohammed’s child bride Aisha, was chosen as the first Caliph.
It was during this period of the first four Caliphs following the death of Mohammed that the agenda of the jihadists from ancient times to the present began to be solidified in the Hadith, those being the Caliphate system and the system of Sharia law. Salafists, who make up a huge percent of jihadists are Muslims who believe that the only true Islam and the only acceptable form of government was exemplified in the first four Caliphates.
Most Islamists and jihadists embrace most of the Hadith and look as much to various Caliphs and religious scholars for guidance as they do the Koran. Most reform minded Muslims are skeptical or outright dismissive of much or even all of the Hadith and see the Islamic empires as being corruptions of Islam. This is the theological division that divides moderate and liberal pluralist secular minded Muslims from those who demand Sharia and the reconquest of the Caliphate.
From my perspective as an atheist, an anti-theist really, the Koran and the Christian and Jewish scriptures also embraced by Islam contain enough demands to suppress and kill non-believers, threaten people with hell fire, conquer in the name of god, oppress women, et cetera without even dealing with the Hadith. Yet I have to say I hope for the sake of this generation and the next that more Muslims will reject the Hadith, Sharia, and Caliphate even if they still embrace the Koran and the Bible.
ABel AShes When the formation of ISIS was announced in April 2013, al-Baghdadi stated that the Syrian Civil War Jihadist faction, Jabhat al-Nusra, had been an extension of the ISI in Syria, and was now to be merged with ISIS. The leader of Jabhat al-Nusra, Abu Mohammad al-Jawlani, disputed this merging of the two groups and appealed to al-Qaeda emir Ayman al-Zawahiri, who issued a statement that ISIS should be abolished and that al-Baghdadi should confine his group’s activities to Iraq. Al-Baghdadi, however, dismissed al-Zawahiri’s ruling and took control of a reported 80% of Jabhat al-Nusra’s foreign fighters. In January 2014, ISIS expelled Jabhat al-Nusra from the Syrian city of Raqqa, and in the same month clashes between the two in Syria’s Deir ez-Zor Governorate killed hundreds of fighters and displaced tens of thousands of civilians. In February 2014, al-Qaeda disavowed any relations with ISIS.[3
ABel AShes According to some analysts, ISIS is increasingly being viewed as a militia rather than a terrorist organization. “This is not a terrorism problem anymore”, says Jessica Lewis, an expert on ISIS at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank, “This is an army on the move in Iraq and Syria, and they are taking terrain. … They have shadow governments in and around Baghdad, and they have an aspirational goal to govern. I don’t know whether they want to control Baghdad, or if they want to destroy the functions of the Iraqi state, but either way the outcome will be disastrous for Iraq.” Lewis, who was a U.S. Army intelligence officer in Iraq and Afghanistan, calls ISIS “an advanced military leadership.” She says,”They have incredible command and control and they have a sophisticated reporting mechanism from the field that can relay tactics and directives up and down the line … They are well-financed, and they have big sources of manpower, not just the foreign fighters, but also prisoner escapees.” Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, who monitors jihadist activity for the Middle East Forum says, “They are highly skilled in urban guerrilla warfare while the new Iraqi Army simply lacks tactical competence.” Other seasoned observers also pointed to the Iraqi army’s systemic corruption, its being little more than a system of patronage, for its spectacular collapse in June 2014 as ISIS and its allies took over large swaths of Iraq.
During the Iraq War, the U.S. Armed Forces had never faced an organized militant force as good as ISIS. Douglas Ollivant, a former Army Cavalry officer who later handled Iraq for the White House National Security Council, says, “They were great terrorists. They made great car bombs. But they were lousy line infantry, and if you got them in a firefight, they’d die. They have now repaired that deficiency.” Like other analysts, Ollivant credits the civil war in Syria for their striking improvement in battlefield ability since the Iraq War: “You fight Hizballah for a couple of years, and you either die or you get a lot better. And these guys just got a lot better.”
The Economist reported that “ISIS may have up to 6,000 fighters in Iraq and 3,000-5,000 in Syria, including perhaps 3,000 foreigners; nearly a thousand are reported to hail from Chechnya and perhaps 500 or so more from France, Britain and elsewhere in Europe.” Some sources believe that the group has about 15,000 people performing secondary roles.
ISIS currently runs a soft-power program, which includes social services, religious lectures and da’wah—proselytizing—to local populations. It also performs civil tasks such as repairing roads and maintaining the electricity supply. Other armed opposition groups have turned against ISIS because the group considers itself a state with its own courts, not “a faction among factions”, not allowing other opposition groups to take benefits from smuggling weapons and drugs between Syria and Turkey or to take penalties from border-crossers.
The group is also known for its effective use of propaganda. ISIS’s main media outlet is the I’tisaam Media Foundation, whose use of social media has been described by one expert as “probably more sophisticated than [that of] most US companies”
ABel AShes There are some ex-Syrian military and ex-Baathists from Saddam’s regime that have joined ISIS. If some of them are former military pilots then ISIS would conceivably be able to deploy the Blackhawk helicopters and military cargo planes they have recently seized in Iraq.