ISIS Communication Battle: Better than Its Military Accomplishments

ISIS Communication Battle: Better than Its Military Accomplishments

By Dialogo
September 12, 2014

Chile seems to be far away from the serious events that are taking place in stricken Iraq and fragile Syria with the emergence of a group that has been fighting against Al-Qaeda over the leadership of the global Jihad: ISIS. However, its communication actions are leading to conflict all around the world, including marketing techniques as part of its communication strategy, which has even surpassed its military maneuvering capabilities.
Al-Qaeda's successors have experienced varied transformations over time; these variations have been very diverse, such as belonging to a branch of the already mentioned terrorist organization.
The origins of ISIS can be traced back to a small Jordan extremist organization founded in 1999, which returned to Al-Qaeda in 2004. Later, in 2006, it made its comeback as the Islamic State of Iraq.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been its leader since 2010, and he raises mystery and speculation. Little is known about him. It is speculated that he was born in the late 1970s in Samarra, Iraq, and that he obtained a PhD in Education at the University of Baghdad.
In 2011, Baghdadi perpetrated a series of suicide attacks against targets, most of whom were Shiites. He decided to send his combatants to Syria, to increase his control over territories. Not even the constant threats of Zawahiri, then leader of Al-Qaeda, made him withdraw. He named his organization as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and he also focused his efforts on destroying or absorbing other Syrian rebels, organizing several actions, in addition to taking advantage of oil sites, instead of confronting Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Asad directly. Since 2011, several insurgent factions emerged from Baghdadi’s organization.
After the group was able to control western Iraq in the first four months of this year and made a series of accomplishments in northern Iraq in June, it decided that it was the right time to start its most dramatic phase. The establishment of a caliphate was announced: a universal Islamic State led by a successor (Caliph) of Mohammed - in this case, Baghdadi - and the name of the group was again changed to the Islamic State (IS), or ISIS or ISIL, as it is now known.

The Strategies of Its Leader

Several sources mention that ISIS has between 7 and 8 thousand combatants in Iraq, and another 5 thousand in Syria. Reports state that there are several foreigners among their troops.

Chechnya, Afghanistan, Europe

Its strategy is aimed at imposing the Sharia throughout the Syrian and Iraqi territories. ISIS already controls a great deal of these territories, as we can see in the following picture. The advance over Mossul adds up to the cities already seized by early 2014, as well as big areas in the Ambar province.
A few months ago, ISIS combatants coming from the Syrian province of Rakka arrived in Ambar, west of Iraq. In January, they settled in the city of Faluya, seized Iraqi Army's arsenals, and resisted attacks by government troops.
In regards to funding, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's organization is also concerned about getting their supplies conveniently. In June this year, the mayor of the city of Mossul reported that ISIS had seized $450 million from a local bank.
ISIS combatants continue advancing towards Baghdad, fighting against the security forces and Shiite militias. The fighting takes place about 80 km from the capital, but there are certain forward factions that occur half the distance to the capital.
ISIS also has heavy military equipment, such as tanks and helicopters. In Syria, combatants are already funded from the extortion on Christians, which remain in their households, in exchange for protection.
Also, they control the largest oil refinery in the country, capable of processing about 320,000 oil barrels a day. The terrorist organization is strong there, where the population is divided and Sunni Muslims are the majority. They were well received by the mostly Sunni opposition in Syria, who oppose President Bashar al Asad, an Alawite labeled as “enemy of the enemy.”
In Iraq several Sunnites consider the situation from the same point of view. They feel discriminated against by the Government of Baghdad, dominated by Shiites.
As a result, the terrorist militia may advance easily, and local rebels are joining their troops.

The communication battle, part of the military strategy

Alleged rivals executed by decapitation in an attempt to generate an impact on the population so they do not join troops in favor of the Government, propaganda videos where different leaders explain the Jihad's aim - or Holy War -, the use of Twitter to announce the execution of 1,700 Shiite soldiers, the issuance of statements, investments in marketing - t-shirts with images alluding to the cause - all stimulate a communication strategy carefully studied and aimed at specific audiences, which has been fruitful and that the Iraqi Government has only censored on the Internet, in an attempt to stop it.
Censorship has not worked effectively in any country, and it is not the most efficient way to combat this sort of threat. For a long time, small and less powerful forces were able to attract the attention and support of external audiences to their cause, by means of communication techniques. This forced military decisions to be extrapolated that could be adopted to counter their offensive.
In the case of ISIS, despite its current relative military supremacy that is attacked by resources and help sent by Coalition nations, there is a high interest for the existence of a communication planning made by the Iraqi Government, so it can be possible to have a panorama of the current events in Syria and Iraq from a different perspective.
ISIS has made an effort to reach audiences, not only by means of sympathy but mostly by terror. If this is not carried out by means of strategic communications planning, the influence over the population affected by ISIS, no matter how large the military force is to control the territory under Jihadist rule, should be addressed immediately by the Iraqi Government, supported by the Coalition.
Extraordinary analysis, very enlightening.