The man who would be Caliph

The Feast of St. Anthony Zaccaria

Today the Islamic State released footage of a man they claim to be Caliph Ibrahim, better known to the world by his nom de guerre Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

 

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi addressing worshipers at a mosque in Mosul (http://www.bbc.co.uk/arabic/middleeast/2014/07/140705_iraq_security_retirement.shtml)

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi addressing worshipers at a mosque in Mosul (http://www.bbc.co.uk/arabic/middleeast/2014/07/140705_iraq_security_retirement.shtml)

Baghdadi apparently addressed worshippers at a mosque in central Mosul and declared that he was their (والي) or custodian/leader/guardian, there isn’t really a great English translation.  He also declared that while he was ‘not the best of you’ he expected to be obeyed by all Muslims if he followed Allah and advised of it if he erred though how well men like this take advice on their errors remains an open question.  His declaration of a caliphate and himself as caliph has met largely with scorn and derision from across the Muslim world, but time will tell.  If the Islamic State can continue to string together victories in Iraq and Syria then who knows?  Muslims from around the world who are starved for leadership (a condition we Catholics can relate to, though we are looking for a far different kind of leader; stop being so enamored with this passing world priests and bishops and Holy Father and just preach the Gospel!) may flock to him.  We shall see.

Pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary on Monday for the See of Constantinople, the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday for the See of Antioch, the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesday for the See of Jerusalem, the Luminous Mysteries on Thursday for the See of Alexandria, and the Sorrowful Mysteries on Friday for the See of Carthage; for their liberty and their salvation and the restoration of their ancient position as pillars of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome; for the conversion of the Jewish people and the conversion of the Muslim peoples.

The Turn of Tikrit

The forces of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant ( الدولة الاسلامية في العراق والشام) continued a rapid advance south of Mosul today seizing the city of Tikrit (95 miles north of Baghdad) and large parts of the city of Baiji (120 miles north of Baghdad).  Heavy fighting was also reported in the Shi’ite holy city of Samarra (about 60 miles north of Baghdad).  This onslaught means that the ISIL has effectively cut off the highway that runs north of Baghdad through Tikrit, Samarra, and Baiji to Mosul.  Any Iraqi reinforcements sent by the central government in Baghdad will have to fight their way through these cities to wrest Mosul out of the Islamic state’s control.  The only immediated threat to the city at present is the Kurdish peshmerga militia dug in on the east bank of the Tigris River.  Whether the Kurds will seek to intervene on Baghdad’s behalf is doubtful but the possibility shouldn’t be entirely dismissed since the rapid ISIL advance may begin to pose a threat to the stability of the Kurdish region.

It is difficult to imagine the ISIL launching a sustained assault on Baghdad (an urban metropolis of many millions) simply due to their lack of numbers, but this group has proven themselves to be determined, resourceful, audacious, and extremely cunning so I really wouldn’t put anything past them.  And it should be noted that the rapid collapse of Iraqi forces in Mosul and the surrounding region allowed a mass of armored vehicles and even some military helicopters to fall into the hands of ISIL which will aid them greatly in any push on Baghdad.

The world is changing.  I do not know what the end result of this chaos in Iraq will be.  ISIL could advance too far too fast and find themselves vulnerable to counterattack (they seem to have a long exposed flank to the east of Highway 1), but maybe they won’t.  And the longer they can sustain these gains the harder it will be to dislodge them.  And since their ideology to which they are ruthlessly committed is to destroy the borders of the Middle East drawn up by the European powers after the First World War and to replace it with a unified Islamic state this will, if accomplished, create a whole new world.

In any case pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary on Monday for the See of Constantinople, the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday for the See of Antioch, the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesday for the See of Jerusalem, the Luminous Mysteries on Thursday for the See of Alexandria, and the Sorrowful Mysteries on Friday for the See of Carthage; for their liberty and their salvation and the restoration of their ancient position as pillars of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome and for the conversion of the Jewish people and the conversion of the Muslim peoples.

The Fall of Mosul: the caliphate advances

It seems that the declaration of a renewed Islamic caliphate in the western Iraqi city of Fallujah last January is something that was far more than a publicity stunt and indeed will need to be taken very seriously.  The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (الدولة الاسلامية في العراق والشام) has apparently taken control of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city of nearly 2 million souls, roughly 200 miles north of Baghdad, roughly in the same location as the ancient capital of the Assyrian empire Ninevah.  This is the same group who declared the caliphate just after the New Year in Fallujah and who have been fighting over a broad swathe of western Iraq and eastern and northern Syria for the past couple of years.  The ISIL has apparently seized the provincial government office in Mosul and several other important sites on the west bank of the Tigris River including the airport (with several military aircraft) and several prisons.  Iraqi security forces are reported to have dropped their weapons, shed their uniforms and fled once the fighting became serious.  Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki asked his Parliament to declare a nationwide state of emergency and pledged to send reinforcements north to contain the militants.  Mosul is on the edge of the Kurdish autonomous region and its leader Massoud Barzani appealed for international help as thousands of refugees fled to the Kurdish region from the beleaguered city, but he made no commitment for his peshmerga to make any move against ISIL in the city.

Whether this is the start of some new Islamic empire I cannot say, nor can anyone else.  Great movements in history have small beginnings.  The ISIL has seemed to prove itself more effective in Iraq than in Syria where it finds itself at odds with other rebel groups fighting the government of Bashar al Assad, but its influence in Syria should not be underestimated.  In any case they seem to have reduced the Iraq/Syria border to a mere line on a map in many areas and they seem to be quite well armed and funded and if they can succeed in holding Mosul then it will be the greatest propaganda coup in the group’s history.

Chaos is spreading in the Middle East and we are seeing how the efforts of a few well motivated individuals can change the course of history.  But there are other means than guns or bombs or vast military offensives.  These are of the world and must perish as the world perishes.  Prayer and sacrifice and the offering of one’s life through Jesus Christ to the glory of the Father will yield eternal results.  Pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary on Monday for the See of Constantinople, the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesday for the See of Antioch, the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesday for the See of Jerusalem, the Luminous Mysteries on Thursday for the See of Alexandria, and the Sorrowful Mysteries on Friday for the See of Carthage; for their liberty and their salvation and the restoration of their ancient position as pillars of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in communion with the See of Peter in Rome and for the conversion of the Jewish people and the conversion of the Muslim peoples.