Iraq conflict: ISIS declares a 'caliphate', calls for Muslims to pledge allegiance
(Translation of this article appears in Arabic section)
The extremist Sunni insurgency that has captured territory in Iraq and Syria has declared itself an Islamic "caliphate" and called on factions worldwide to pledge their allegiance.
The move is an expansion of the group's ambitions to wage a holy war and pose a direct challenge to the central leadership of Al Qaeda, which has already disowned it.
In a statement from Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), posted on Islamist websites and Twitter, the group has renamed itself "Islamic State" and proclaimed its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as "caliph", the head of the state.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
"It is incumbent upon all Muslims to pledge allegiance to and support him ... The legality of all emirates, groups, states, and organisations, becomes null by the expansion of the caliph's authority and arrival of its troops to their areas," the ISIS statement said.
The declaration comes as fierce fighting continues in Iraq, with the military making a counter attack on insurgents in the northern city of Tikrit.
In a statement which was translated into several languages and an Arabic audio speech, the group's spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani said Baghdadi was "the imam and caliph for the Muslims everywhere".
"Accordingly, the 'Iraq and Sham' in the name of the Islamic State is henceforth removed from all official deliberations and communications, and the official name is the Islamic State from the date of this declaration," he said.
Gulf Arab states such as Saudi Arabia are likely to be alarmed by the pronouncement of a caliphate that challenges their power and dynastic system, some analysts say.
Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Centre, said there was considerable significance in the move.
"Whatever judgments are made in terms of its legitimacy, [the] announcement that it has restored the caliphate is likely the most significant development in international jihadism since 9/11," he said.
"The impact of this announcement will be global as Al Qaeda affiliates and independent jihadist groups must now definitively choose to support and join the Islamic State or to oppose it."
However, Emirati political scientist Abdulkhaleq Abdullah dismissed the idea, saying the group did not have the legitimacy to have a significant effect on the Gulf region.
"It might sound good to some circles who always have this dream of an Islamic state of a sort, but we all know that this Baghdadi, [ISIS], they are not the kind of entities that could bring back the Islamic state," he said.
Iraqi army pushes back against ISIS insurgents in Tikrit
Iraq's army sent tanks and armoured vehicles to try to dislodge insurgents from the northern city of Tikrit on Sunday, the second day of a pushback against the ISIS takeover of the city.
Two witnesses said they saw a helicopter gunned down over northern Tikrit, which was seized by ISIS insurgents nearly three weeks ago. The report has not yet been independently verified.
Iraqi army spokesman Qassim Atta told reporters in Baghdad security forces had killed 142 "terrorists" over the last 24 hours across Iraq, including 70 in Tikrit, and said the armed forces were in control of Tikrit's university.
Both claims were unable to be immediately verified.
"Our security forces have taken complete control of the University of Tikrit and they have raised the Iraqi flag on top of the building," Mr Atta said.
An Iraqi official says 180 American advisers have played an "essential" role in the counter attack, with the United States flying manned and unmanned surveillance missions over Iraq.
However, some reports from the city say the government's offensive has been blunted, and some units including tanks were forced to fall back when they encountered fierce resistance.
The group crucified eight rival rebel fighters in Syria, a monitoring group said on Sunday, and it has frequently fought against Al Qaeda's Syrian wing and other armed Islamist groups.
Such infighting has killed around 7,000 people in the country so far this year and complicated the three-year uprising against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.