A senior member of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) from the group’s stronghold in Hawija has reportedly declared himself the new leader of the organization, following the reported death of leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Abu Haitham al-Obaidi, a military commander in Hawija, Kirkuk, has now withdrawn dozens of his loyal followers in Hawija in preparation for further violence in the region.
“Abu Haitham al-Obaidi, deputy to the (Islamic State’s) mayor of Hawija, dissented from the group and named himself a new Caliph after Baghdadi’s death reports were confirmed,” Jabbar al-Maamouri, a leader at the Popular Mobilization Forces, reportedly told the Iraqi News agency in a statement.
“Hawija is bracing for a bloody infighting among IS members, the most violent since the group took over Hawija in June 2014,” he added.
In June, Russia’s Defense Ministry released satellite photos of the bunker where former leader al-Baghdadi was allegedly killed in an airstrike. However, reports of his death were only confirmed this week.
In recent months, the U.S. led coalition has taken out a number of key ISIS leaders and high-ranking officials, including deputy leader Ayad al-Jumaili, who served as second-in-command to al-Baghdadi and led the group’s internal security unit, which has carried out rapes, beatings, and public executions.
This week, the coalition officially secured victory over ISIS in Mosul, where three years ago the terror organization declared itself a caliphate. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi also traveled to the region to congratulate troops on their victory.
“Our victory today is a victory over darkness, a victory over brutality and terrorism, and I announce to the whole world today the end and failure and collapse of the mythical terrorist state,” Abadi said in a televised address from the region.
“Praise be to God, we managed to liberate (Mosul) and proved the others were wrong, the people of Mosul supported and stood with our security forces against terrorism,” al-Abadi said.
Having succeeded in Mosul, the coalition is now turning to the Syrian city of Raqqa as a strategic priority to defeat the organization altogether. However, US-backed forces have warned that the process may “take months,” despite a series of rapid advances throughout the city.