The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has declared the establishment of a caliphate and declared its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, caliph of a new Islamic state in territory it holds across Iraq and Syria. ISIL spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani delivered an audio statement online Sunday, at the start of the holy month of Ramadan, saying "He is the imam and caliph for Muslims everywhere." Adnani said ISIL would now be known simply as "the Islamic State" in recognition of the group's conquests in breaking down international borders. Iraqi army spokesman Qassim Atta appealed for international help saying the declaration poses a regional and global threat. The move is also a challenge to the leadership of al Qaeda, which disowned the militant group. Meanwhile, clashes continued Monday in the Iraqi city of Tikrit as the army worked to dislodge militants who seized control over two weeks ago. On Saturday, the army reportedly drove ISIL-led fighters from the center of the city, however militants said they had repelled the government counteroffensive on Sunday, and residents reported the militants maintained control over the city center.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is leveraging its gains in Iraq to expand control in Syria, intensify clashes against rival Islamist factions, including al-Nusra Front. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported heavy fighting between ISIL militants and rival groups in the town of Boukamal on the border between Iraq and Syria. Meanwhile, Syrian state media reported mortar shells hit government controlled areas of the northern city of Idlib Monday, killing 14 people and wounding at least 50 others. Opposition Syrian National Council President Ahmad Jarba is working to gain support from within the council to withdraw confidence from Prime Minister Ahmad Tohme. On Friday, Jarba annulled a decision by Tohme to disband the Supreme Military Council.
- Three explosions killed two Egyptian police officers near the presidential palace after the militant group Ajnad Misr said it planted bombs in Cairo to target security forces.
- A Tunisian diplomat and an embassy worker abducted earlier this year in Libya were released Sunday and have returned to Tunis.
- The Israeli army reported at least 15 rockets were fired from Gaza Monday morning after Israel carried out airstrikes on 12 targets in Gaza Sunday morning.
- Health experts are citing flaws in the way Saudi Arabian authorities have handled the spread of the MERS virus as the number of cases and deaths have more than tripled since the end of 2013.
Arguments and Analysis
'Isis: What will militant group do next?' (Charles Lister, BBC)
"In Iraq, instead of insisting on a swift and dramatic attack on Baghdad, Isis has patiently targeted government weak-points and sought to control territory which could serve to facilitate a multi-pronged assault on the capital city.
In Syria, Isis has consolidated control over the financially lucrative north-east and sought to re-establish dominance along the Iraqi border in Deir al-Zour and Hassakeh. A move back west, into territory it ceded in February and March in western Aleppo province, Idlib, northern Hama, and Latakia looks almost inevitable later this year.
Isis thrives off instability and will consistently seek to create it. In so doing, perfecting an alternative mode of governance has proven similarly important."
'Iraq's Problem Is Power Politics, Not "Ancient Hatreds"' (Daniel Benajmin The Wall Street Journal)
"There is indeed plenty of bad blood between Sunnis and Shiites. But today's sectarian rifts in Iraq and the wider region are the result of calculated efforts over many years by modern states-above all, Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia. Both countries have long jostled for regional dominance, and despite their bitter harvest, neither seems particularly willing to change."
'So What About the Southern Question?: The Future Prospects for Unity in Yemen' (Mareike Transfeld, Muftah)
"While the north refers to the grievances of the southern people as legitimate, political elites view Hirak as a threat to national security rather than a legitimate political movement. In a statement on May 22, the current Minister of Interior referred to Hirak, along with al-Qaeda and the northern Houthi movement, as rebel groups endangering Yemen. Government forces continue to violently repress protests in the south."
-- Mary Casey
KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images