Tuesday saw the release of a new Islamic State video, depicting the barbaric murder of individuals who allegedly spied on the group for the U.S. and its allies.
The videos spread quickly online, as ISIS propaganda often does. But this time, the video seems to reflect certain weaknesses as ISIS passes the first anniversary of declaring its supposed caliphate in Syria and Iraq.
On Tuesday, The New York Times interviewed Bassem Mohammed, a lieutenant in the Iraqi police force whom the video addressed by name. Mohammed has spent months trying to organize a group of ex-police to fight against Islamic State in Iraq’s Ninawa Province. Ninawa’s capital, Mosul, is Iraq’s largest city that ISIS controls.
According to the Times, Mohammed “knew about half of the 16 prisoners seen being killed in the video and that he was related to many of them.” (RELATED: People Are Siding With ISIS Over The Gov’t Because: ‘At Least They’re Honest’)
This detailed attention to potential rebels reflects increasing insecurity among top ISIS leaders in Iraq. Analysts Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan wrote in The Daily Beast that the video’s target audience was not outraged Westerners, but Sunni Muslims in and around Islamic State territory — “the only demographic force that can ultimately unhorse it on the battlefield.”
The video’s timing is also key: this week, Islamic State is desperately fighting to reclaim the Syrian city of Kobani, and facing a Syrian rebel charge against its stronghold in the city of Raqqa.
The last thing the jihadis want is another “Sahwa” (awakening) — the U.S.-backed Sunni militias which last decade effectively drove ISIS’ predecessor, al-Qaida in Iraq, out of the country. So to prevent rebellion, ISIS aims to disempower the Sunnis who hope to resist its rule, and escalate fears of life under the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government in Baghdad. (RELATED: Here’s How Many Jihadi Camps Are In Syria And Iraq)
This most often takes the form of severely punishing dissenters or resistors to its harsh brand of Islamic law. Countless reports detail oppressive sentences of amputated limbs, floggings and beheadings in ISIS-held territory. The implication is that any Sunni who chafes under Islamic State’s version of Sunni Islam is no true Sunni.
ISIS’ latest video is merely a grotesquely caricatured version of the same message. Instead of beheading criminals in the public square, the video depicts mass drowning, explosive decapitation and the incineration of prisoners locked into a car. But the subtext still stands: to hold its ground ISIS must continue suppressing those whom it has made hostages in their own hometowns.
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