For a generation, al-Qaeda has been the undisputed leader of global jihad. Even as its iconic founder was killed and its leaders forced on the run by drone strikes, it metastasised through powerful affiliates and franchises from Algeria, to Yemen, to Iraq. But one of the hydra’s heads is now taking on a life of its own. The pretenders to al-Qaeda’s throne, currently blitzing through Iraq, have been through more name changes than Prince. Their origins lie in a small Jordanian-led extremist group founded in 1999, which re-branded as al-Qaeda in Iraq in 2004 and again as the Islamic State of Iraq in 2006. Although Americans and Iraqis largely defeated the group by 2008, they quickly picked themselves up off the floor. The shadowy Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi became their leader in 2010. As is common for such figures, a hagiographic mythology has built up around his past. What we know is that he was born in the Iraqi city of Samarra in the early Seventies and that he studied for a doctorate at the University of Baghdad.