An al-Qaida breakaway group that seized large
swaths of Iraq in recent weeks declared June 29 the creation of a new religious
state in Iraq and Syria, as it continued to repel government forces in Tikrit,
the hometown of former dictator Saddam Hussein.
The militant group called the Islamic State of
Iraq and the Levant announced it will now be known as The Islamic State.
The announcement could force other jihadist
groups to either join or fight the group, which lays claim to billions of
dollars in assets, scores of communities and operations that extend into Turkey
and Lebanon, said Charles Lister, an analyst at the Brookings Doha Center, a
"The Islamic State's announcement made it
clear that it would perceive any group that failed to pledge allegiance an
enemy of Islam," Lister said. "Already, this new Islamic State has
received statements of support and opposition from jihadist factions in
The group, which was disowned this year by
al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahri, has developed an elaborate bureaucracy and an
efficient model of governance, providing modern social services together with
medieval justice. And it has supporters in Jordan, Gaza, the Sinai Peninsula,
Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, Lister said.
"This could well be the birth of a totally
new era of transnational jihadism," he said.
In Washington, state department spokeswoman Jen
Psaki said, "This is a critical moment for the international community to
stand together against ISIL and the advances it has made."
The group, which gained control of much of
northern Syria during that country's civil war, fought U.S. troops as al-Qaida
in Iraq during the U.S. occupation.
In Tikrit, Iraqi helicopter gunships struck
suspected insurgent positions as part of a government offensive to retake the
city from the militants. The Iraqi military launched its push with a
multipronged assault spearheaded by ground troops backed by tanks and
helicopters. Iraq said the army is coordinating its campaign with the United
The insurgents appeared to have repelled the
military's initial push for Tikrit and remained in control of the city Sunday,
but clashes were taking place in the northern neighborhood of Qadisiyah, two
residents reached by telephone told the Associated
The United States has sent 180 of 300 American
troops that President Obama has promised to help Iraqi forces.
The U.S. military said it is flying 30 to 35
missions a day over Iraq, primarily on surveillance missions. "Some of
those aircraft are armed," Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman,
said on June 28. The flights included both drones and manned aircraft.
Tikrit is one of two major cities to fall to
the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
The city had emptied out in recent days as
people fled ahead of the anticipated clashes.
If Iraq's military forces are successful in
regaining Tikrit, it would provide a boost to embattled Prime Minister Nouri
al-Maliki, who is fighting for his job as many former allies drop their support
and Iraqis increasingly express doubts about his ability to unify the country.
Al-Maliki has shown little inclination publicly
to step aside and instead appears set on a third consecutive term after his
bloc won the most seats in April elections. The parliament convenes Tuesday
(July 1) to start the process to select a new government.
Al-Maliki has widely been accused of
monopolizing power and alienating Sunnis, who have long complained of being
unfairly targeted by security forces.