The jihadist Islamic State flaunted its power Saturday by airing a video of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, even as the Iraqi army attempted to recover lost ground in the Sunni provinces near Baghdad.
Up to now only a few photos have been released of al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed caliph, so that pictures of his public appearance Friday at prayers in the Great Mosque of the Iraqi city of Mosul acquired an undeniable significance.
Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, has been under Islamic State control since last June 10, a serious setback for Iraqi authorities who in just a few days saw the jihadists at the gates of Baghdad.
During his sermon, al-Baghdadi urged his followers to obey him if he obeys God, and to persist with the jihad (holy war) because it is "the path of pride."
"If you have faith in God and do your work well you will govern the earth as God promised true believers," said the heavily bearded Islamic State leader in his robe and black turban.
The Islamic State is working to establish a local administrative system in coordination with all the other rebel Sunni groups, a local activist told Efe.
With regard to sectarian tension, he said the jihadists destroyed several Shi'ite mosques they suspected of being used for meetings of extremist militias of that Islamic group.
In fact, most of the Shi'ite inhabitants have fled or have been expelled from Mosul, though some have preferred to remain in the city, as has the Christian minority.
While Sunni insurgents and the Islamic State strengthen their bastion in Nineveh, whose capital is Mosul, Iraqi troops launched new operations Saturday to win back territory in provinces with a Sunni majority - Anbar, Saladin and Diyala.
Security officials told Efe that Iraqi forces in Anbar are backed by the Sunni pro-governmental militia called Salvation Councils.
The Iraqi conflict took on a new dimension last Sunday with the Islamic State's proclamation of a caliphate from the Syrian province of Aleppo to the Iraqi governate of Diyala.
On July 1, al-Baghdadi said it was "obligatory" for all Muslims to emigrate to the caliphate because this "belongs to all Muslims," not just to the two countries of what was formerly called the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. EFE