ISIL declares new ‘Islamic caliphate’

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The statement declared Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the caliph, or head of the caliphate.

The statement declared Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the caliph, or head of the caliphate.

Rebels fighting in Iraq under ISIL banner announce creation of Islamic state, extending from Diyala to Syria’s Aleppo.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the armed group fighting governments in Iraq and Syria, has announced the establishment of a “caliphate” straddling the two countries.

In an audio recording distributed online on Sunday, the ISIL declared its chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as “the caliph” and “leader for Muslims everywhere”.

Baghdadi is believed to be the leader of ISIL, which announced that it is now called “The Islamic State”.

According to the statement, the new caliphate stretches from Iraq’s Diyala province to Syria’s Aleppo.

“The Shura (council) of the Islamic State met and discussed this issue (of the caliphate)… The Islamic State decided to establish an Islamic caliphate and to designate a caliph for the state of the Muslims,” said ISIL spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani.

“The words ‘Iraq’ and ‘the Levant’ have been removed from the name of the Islamic State in official papers and documents,” Adnani said, describing the caliphate as “the dream in all the Muslims’ hearts” and “the hope of all jihadists”.

Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan reporting from the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, said that a caliphate is effectively an Islamic Republic led by one leader, regardless of national boundaries.

With the announcement, the armed group is declaring that they are now legitimate, declaring the caliphate as the “true Muslim state”, he said.

The announcement might bring up problems with other Sunni fighters in Iraq, who are fighting the central government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and not fighting for the caliphate, our correspondent said.

Tikrit offensive

The ISIL announcement came even as Iraq’s army pressed ahead with its offensive to recapture the northern city of Tikrit.

Troops backed by helicopter gunships began an assault on Tikrit, the birthplace of former President Saddam Hussein, on Saturday, to try to take it back from ISIL fighters who have swept to within driving range of Baghdad.

The army sent in tanks and helicopters to battle ISIL fighters near the University of Tikrit in the city’s north on Sunday, security sources said.

The offensive was the first major attempt by the army to retake territory after the United States sent up to 300 advisers, mostly special forces, and drones to help the government take on ISIL.

Earlier on Sunday, Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Hussain al-Shahristani, one of Iraq’s most senior politicians, faulted the US for not doing enough to bolster the country’s military, just hours after Russia delivered five Sukhoi jets.

“Yes, there has been a delay from the Americans in handing over contracted arms. We told them, ‘You once did an air bridge to send arms to your ally Israel, so why don’t you give us the contracted arms in time?'” he told al-Hurra television.

US officials have disputed similar statements from Iraqi officials in the past and say they have done everything possible to ensure the country is equipped with modern weaponry.

The five Russian Sukhoi jets were delivered to Baghdad late on Saturday. State television said they “would be used in the coming days to strike ISIL terrorist groups”.

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