The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, sometimes called ISIS) is a Sunni jihadist group. It branched off from al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in early 2013 with the goal to create an Islamic state (caliphate) that straddles Iraq and Syria. Syria has been engaged in a civil war since 2011, while Iraq is a young and fragile democracy with considerable sectarian strife. ISIL has capitalized on the unrest in both countries by joining the Sunni rebels fighting against President Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian government, and bringing the violence across the border into Iraq, where Shiites dominate state politics. In late June 2014, after capturing numerous cities and oil fields in both countries, and advancing on Baghdad, ISIL declared the establishment of an Islamic caliphate. It now calls itself the Islamic State, under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a former leader of AQI, who claims absolute political and religious authority as the caliph, a political successor to Mohammed.
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