BAGHDAD — A militant group's declaration of an Islamic state in territory it controls in Syria and Iraq touched off celebrations among its followers but drew condemnation and even ridicule from rivals and officials in Baghdad and Damascus.
The declaration of a caliphate was a bold move by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, not just announcing its own state governed by Shariah law but also claiming legitimacy as a successor to the first Islamic rule created by the Prophet Muhammad in the Arabian Peninsula 14 centuries ago.
In an announcement Sunday, the group proclaimed its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to be the caliph and demanded al Muslims arolund the world pledge allegiance to him.
The move risks straining alliances with other Iraqi Sunnis who have helped the militants seize control of large parts of the country's north and west this month.
Those Sunnis, including former officers in the military of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, have backed the militants in hopes of bringing down the Shiite-led government but not necessarily its ambitions of carving out a transnational caliphate.
Through brute force and meticulous planning, the Sunni extremist group — which said it was changing its name to just the Islamic State, dropping the mention of Iraq and the Levant — has carved out a large chunk of territory that has effectively erased the border between Iraq and Syria and laid the foundations of its proto-state. Along the way, it has battled Syrian rebels, Kurdish militias and the Syrian and Iraqi militaries.
Following the announcement, Islamic State fighters in their northern Syrian stronghold of Raqqa paraded through the city. Some of the revelers wore traditional robes and waved the group's black flags in a central square, while others zoomed around in pickup trucks against a backdrop of celebratory gunfire. Video of the events was posted online, and activists in the city confirmed the details.