The Islamic State’s rivals in Syria reject announced Caliphate

Nine leading rebel groups in Syria have rejected the Islamic State’s claim that it has established a Caliphate stretching across parts of Iraq and Syria.

In a statement released online, the nine groups say “the announcement by the rejectionists [the Islamic State] of a caliphate is null and void,” both “legally and logically.” The nine groups, all of which have long been opposed to the Islamic State, say that the announced Caliphate will not change how they deal with the organization.

The signatories warn other jihadist individuals and organizations not to support the Islamic State. They argue that the decision to announce a Caliphate is self-serving and an attempt to “abort the blessed revolutions in Syria and Iraq.”

Two of the nine signatories are the Islamic Front, a powerful rebel coalition that includes the al Qaeda-linked Ahrar al Sham, and the Majlis Shura al Mujahideen (MSM) in Deir Izzor. The MSM is an alliance of groups, including the Al Nusrah Front, that is opposed to the Islamic State in eastern Syria.

On its Twitter feed, the MSM posted a link to the statement rejecting the Islamic State’s announced caliphate. The MSM says the Islamic State’s announcement is part of “a systematic campaign to distort sharia terms” and the Islamic State has “distorted jihad, sharia, and [the rules for] punishment, and now they want to distort the Caliphate.”

In addition to the Islamic Front and the MSM, the sharia councils of seven other groups signed the rejection of the Islamic State’s Caliphate.

The reaction from the Al Nusrah Front’s leaders was equally dismissive. The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, grew out of the Islamic State’s predecessor organizations, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (ISIS). Despite these common roots, the Al Nusrah Front and the Islamic State have been openly at odds since last year.

In a series of tweets in both English and Arabic, Abu Sulayman al Muhajir, a top sharia official in the Al Nusrah Front, sharply criticized the Islamic State’s announcement. While using the hashtag #Khilafah_Proclaimed in his tweets, Abu Sulayman argued that the Islamic State’s failure to consult jihadi leaders before making the announcement “is a clear breach of Islam.”

“The situation has not changed at all here,” Abu Sulayman said in one tweet, referring to Syria. “Only difference I see is there is a stronger ‘Islamic’ justification for them [the Islamic State] to kill Muslims.” The Islamic State has long justified the killing of other rebel fighters and leaders by arguing that it is the only legitimate authority in Iraq and Syria.

Abu Sulayman, who is from Australia, served as a mediator during al Qaeda’s early attempts to reconcile the ISIS with other jihadist groups in Syria. When those efforts failed, he became a vocal critic of the ISIS and is now a staunch opponent of the Islamic State.

Two other senior Al Nusrah Front officials who are active on Twitter also quickly denounced the Islamic State. One of them, Sami al Uraydi, said the Islamic State’s announcement “is really a declaration of war against Muslims, rather than [the establishment of] an Islamic Caliphate.” Uraydi levied a criticism similar to Abu Sulayman’s as well, arguing that the Caliphate is supposed to be governed by rules agreed upon by Muslim scholars and not according to the demands of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State.

Another Al Nusrah Front official, Al Gharib al Muhajir al Qahtani, dismissed the Islamic State’s Caliphate as “imaginary.” According to al Qahtani, the Islamic State previously failed to procure the support of “many students of [Islamic] knowledge and leaders.” Thus, the group has now become obsessed with the idea of a Caliphate, hoping to earn the jihadist legitimacy it lacked when it was merely a state.

The criticisms of the Islamic State’s announcement are unsurprising. In reality, the battle lines between the Islamic State and its rivals in Iraq and Syria were drawn long ago.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Marcus says:

    When ISIS said it had people in Ma’an, Jordan, I assumed they had sleepers cells maybe numbering a 2 dozen to a hundred.
    I did not expect thousands of )erstwhile?) supporters. I especially did not expect the Bedouin to be the ones protesting. I expected it to be people who identified as Palestinian.
    Point is that Al Nusrah might reconsider it support, if ISIS makes significant inroads in Jordan.
    A further thought is that President Obama a came out swinging after the Hobby Lobby SCOTUS decision. Yet, the Ma’an protests which seem to be more threatening and important did not elicit any press time by the President.
    In what world does a potential jihadi take over of Jordan not elicit a presidential press conference but Hobby Lobby does?

  • KW64 says:

    The ISIS (aka Caliphate)’s ability to annoy absolutely everyone bodes well for the US effort to prop up a moderate Syrian opposition. If fractious groups are scared and angry at one preoccuppying danger, they can overcome their differences much more easily. How the Syrian government will react is not clear. They have given a pass on ISIS until reacently but under Iranian pressure have now started acting against them. Whether they switch more attention back to the more moderate opposition if the US becomes more active remains to be seen.

  • Birbal Dhar says:

    I think the Islamic State is going to self destruct, with now islamic fanatics opposing them, along with Kurds and Shia’s. This so called caliphate that Baghdadi pronounced, is going to be the shortest one ever in human history !!

  • Jeff Edelman says:

    I believe there is a Monty Python skit here.

  • m3fd2002 says:

    ISIS is using the Taleban’s play book. Mid 1990’s people were saying “who are those guys”, yet one Afghan town after another starting falling like dominoes. They intimidated most of their opponents into surrender or defection. I doubt the Iraqi Army will be able to retake and pacify the Sunni dominated areas easily if at all. It’s all over but the shouting, Iraq/Syria are in the dust bin of history, hello Kurdistan. Power vacuums will be filled. Combined demographically, Iraq and Syria have about 40 million arabs split evenly between shia and sunni. A recipe for a very long bloody conflict.

  • gitsum says:

    I believe they should grind each other to a pulp and I’ll drink a beer in the stands.

  • Arjuna says:

    In the same world where scoring points against Putin on behalf of alternate-lifestyle minorities in America matters more than counter-terrorism cooperation with the one nation we could most use the help of in combatting global extremism. Time for golf!

  • Brian says:

    This is really no surprise to anyone following events. It doesn’t change much in terms of galvanizing support against the Islamic State. What it does do, however, it place enormous pressure on those opposing them to deliver the goods to the populations that are currently under their authority. Given that many of these groups couched their rebellion against Assad in Islamic terms to win initial support from the population willing to fight, they are going to have a very difficult time maintaining themselves. That many of these groups continue to roll back their Islamic credentials in favor of more nationalistic and secular principles, does not bode well for their credibility or viability in the face of an entity that clearly has not deviated from the ideological and religious principles it espouses. In fact, they are implementing them which will only solidify their support base and cause more to take a closer look at them in terms of throwing their hat in their corner. Interesting times!

  • Dan says:

    It was only less than a week ago that fighters from Jabhat al Nusrah pledged allegiance to Islamic State.
    Are we seeing al Nusrah ranks fracture or was this simply propaganda from the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights (not unusual)?

  • David Salter says:

    My question is what happens if or when ISIS/ISIL/IS consolidates their power in Iraq. What are their goals then? Turn their attention back to Syria and over throw Assad; attack the West or both?
    Their stated intent all along has always been to strike back at the US and finish the job Bin Laden started or so it appears to me.
    I also question how hard all these other rebel groups are going to resist ISIS/IS/WHATEVER and whether or not they Will content themselves with كنت امتص no كنت امتص active or will they actually go after each other all the way to paradise?
    Islam the religion of Peace. A beautiful thing!

  • mark says:

    I am not so sure that the Nusrah front (alQaeda) vs ISIS (Islamic State) split is real or just a smoke screen.
    Look, any causal study of Caliphate history shows the rise and fall, fortune and misfortune was and will always be driven by the enormity of personality. You can not escape this observation, it is a fact of Islamic history.
    If there is any difference to be observed in current crop of those seeking and/or claiming restoration of Caliphate, it solely being driven by the enormity of claiming to be successor to Mohammad, and who lends their weight to the claim, i.e. Nursa and alQaeda, can’t rightfully throw their support behind this because in their view Baghdadi is a hayseed, does not equate not supporting rise of new Caliphate.
    This not withstanding, that is throughout Islamic history at any giving time there has been always been several indivuals claiming the right scholarly devotion and family linerage to claim the title. It is a fact. All the same, at times where one dynasty proceeded the next, the likely script followed the same pattern worn thin by any modern public relation firm.
    Like a radio station going form hard rock to easy listening, it has all been done before.
    Honestily, i can’t just say go read about Caliphate history, and you will understand what i am trying to say, i been reading about it for twenty years, and i still think it will take a PhD in islamic history to understand what i am going to say next.
    I mean this with all sincertity, these guys, those behind alQaeda are following a script likely ripped right out of playbook of how the Seljuq Turks subplanted the Abbasid dynasty, that is my opinion of twenty years of research. Abeit a script that has been modified to meet new realities of modern world, none the same it is the same plan. To replace the old order you must move into position those loyal to the cause up next to the throne, to advise until only the leader remains, then you knife him in the back, and all the people behind the throne fall in place with new order.
    So, when reports of in fighting, emerge, it is all part of a master plan serving the greater good so to speak.
    My bet is if Nusrah front, i.e. alQaeda, came out saying they support ISIS, then other interested parties, western world, would see a single target, so create the myth that there is infighting to advance the goal and buy breathing space. They are playing chess with the goal of checkmate and if eggs are broken to uphold preception that there is not unity then so be it. If successful Baghdadi can still retire, emensily rich knowing he help ushering the new middle east new order.
    Enough said in a long post, I can not stress enough the general observation oulined here.

  • Gaz says:

    Mark, the fighting between ISIS & JN in the last year has led to hundreds of deaths on both sides, and has involved the use of suicide bombings against each other and mutual accusations of heresy.


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