Iraq crisis: A look at ISIL’s propaganda machine

WATCH: U.S. troops aren’t joining the fight, but a whole lot of foreign fighters are leaving home to join the conflict on the side of Islamist militants. That includes some from Canada. Shirlee Engel looks into the rise of homegrown radicals.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Levant’s violent sweep through Iraq did not begin with the capture of Mosul earlier this month: It’s been years in the making, helped by a concerted campaign to win the hearts and minds of Sunnis who feel wronged or marginalized in a Shiite-led Iraq.

“ISIS control in Mosul is contingent on political alliances they have made with the Baathists and the tribal groups,” New America Foundation counter-terrorism expert Brian Fishman told the Daily Beast.

READ MORE: Iraq crisis: New ISIS video aims to lure foreign fighters

A Shillman-Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Forum, Aymenn J Al-Tamimi, collects photos from ISIS and other Sunni groups like the Sufi-Ba’athist militia and Dulaimis and posts them on his own twitter feed with context.

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On his personal blog, Al-Tamimi says that the complexity of intra-insurgents dynamics is beyond rivalries that the ISIS has with other rebel groups, “further eroding any government hopes of making gains against ISIS and the wider insurgency.”

The only difference between ISIL and its allies, the Ba’athist Naqshbandi Army and front-groups that function under the same brand of Sunni Sufism,  is its well organized structure.

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Social Media

Screenshot of ISIL’s smartphone app from Best Apps Market.
Screenshot of ISIL’s smartphone app from Best Apps Market.

The “Dawn of the Gospels”  is ISIL’s own Arabic-language twitter application created for Google and Android phones. Gaining in popularity this April, the app’s website says it “provides you with the latest news and operations of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, to put you in the form of events first hand, posted directly to your account.”

READ MORE: Iraq crisis: ISIS or ISIL – what’s in a transliterated name?

Created by developer Hamza Moula, the app has been downloaded more than 1,000 times, according to Best Apps Market, a website that features apps on its website for a fee.

Available on the Google Play store until as recently as June 16, the app tweeted out ISIS propaganda in the form of pictures, videos, and hashtags.

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Here is an example of a tweet sent out by the application:

Following the link included in the tweet is a field report that details the ambush of a convoy by the ISIL.

The app was designed so it would go undetected by Twitter’s built-in spam detection algorithms by spacing out the tweets it sends from members’ accounts. But since being removed from the Google Play store, the application’s official Twitter account has been suspended as well. The official YouTube account for the app has also been suspended due to what YouTube calls multiple or severe violations of  the site’s policy on violence.

But ISIL still has many other avenues where its message can flow freely. There is an official Tumblr page called El-Pashaer that posts ISIL related news, and a YouTube account that posts ISIL-created videos.

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One of the latest videos posted shows ISIL fighters armed and walking in formation, an ISIL parade and ISIL fighters holding others captive before their deaths.

Official ISIL videos are marked with ISIL’s flag, black with white Arabic writing that says, “No god but God. Mohammad is the messenger of God.” The flag first appeared in 2011, according to Foreign Policy.

Despite Iraq’s Ministry of Communications’ efforts at censorship by cutting internet to certain locations in Iraq on June 13, ISIL’s message is still flowing through unofficial accounts on Twitter and Youtube and through Tumblr account, which has not been flagged yet.

Annual Reports

Corporations and charities release annual reports to let the public know what they’re doing and how they’re approaching their goals. So does ISIL.

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Clocking in at over 200 pages, the annual reports are meant to “publish ISIS’ results of its performance to achieve organizational effects.”  says the Institute for the Study of War.

Two reports have been released so far, one for 2012 and another for 2013. The latest report, released on March, 31, 2013 is around 200 pages longer than the previous year’s edition. It claims to measure the organization’s progress in conquering desired land and enemies.

The first pages feature infographics telling readers how many people were killed in various types of attack.

Infographic describing the types of attacks orchestrated by ISIS from Nov. 2012 to Nov. 2013.

The reports are meant to show readers ISIS is a structured organization and is capable of planning attacks and is meant as a message rather than a measure of actual attacks committed. The number of attacks reported may be fictitiousor reported incorrectly, according to the institute.


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