The Battle of Mosul

Ayman al-Zawahiri was correct. Believed to be ensconced in the tribal lands of Pakistan, the leader of what’s sometimes called al Qaeda Central has dedicated his life to a jihad that he hopes and prays will lead to the founding of a new and mighty Islamic empire. But he understands the value of strategic patience.

In particular, he recognized that establishing a caliphate before conditions were favorable for its survival and expansion could only be unhelpful, causing Muslims to doubt whether spreading Islamic domination in the 21st century is a divinely blessed mission.

By contrast, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, 45, has been a young man in a hurry. As leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, he chafed at taking orders from the 65-year-old successor to Osama bin Laden. In 2014, he broke with al Qaeda, declared a caliphate, the Islamic State, with himself as caliph. And now he and his fledgling empire are in peril.