ISIS’ propaganda backfires as it loses ground

For almost two weeks, news reports from the battlefields in Iraq have been noting tough times for ISIS

Raed Omari

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For almost two weeks, news reports from the battlefields in Iraq have been noting tough times for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Preparations for the ground assault against the terrorist organization and the successes on quality targets by the U.S.-led airstrikes all seem to be marking an emerging decisiveness on ISIS in addition to prophesying a curb to the group’s expansion as the first step towards its elimination.

It is as if the war on ISIS has really entered a new phase. The Iraqi forces, backed by the tribes, al-Hash al-Shaabi, the Kurds and the coalition’s air coverage, have been reported as regaining the upper hand on the battlefield. It was no doubt the tremendous impact of ISIS’ Hollywood-inspired videos, showing its unsurpassed brutality, that made many people around the world forget about the reality of the al-Qaeda-sprung militants. It was to my utmost shock that I once was told by an European professor: “ISIS seems [as though it is] going to control the world!” That was perhaps not the impression of my European friend but of many people who were watching with shock how ISIS is expanding and gaining ground very rapidly with no army to stop them. Such an impression is what ISIS’ propaganda machine has been trying to spread.

The image that wherever ISIS goes no one can stop it is no longer in place. ISIS is now being defeated, cornered and hurt

Raed Omari

The world’s focus for a considerable period of time has been all placed on ISIS’ cluster-like expansion in Syria and Iraq. Little attention has been given to the news reports about ISIS’ defeats first in Iraq’s eastern province of Diyala, Anbar’s al-Baghdadi town and before that in the Syrian town of Kobane. The recapture of Kobane by Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, backed by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the coalition’s air coverage, was the best proof of ISIS’ actual status: an armed militia – not a state or organized army – that can be defeated, cornered and curbed if elements of conventional war are in place. By this I mean, air coverage, ground troops, logistic and technical supports, military plans and, more importantly, the will.

Self-styled entity

Let’s not forget that ISIS is a self-proclaimed and self-styled entity. All the images about its strength have been constructed by the group itself through horrific videos and testimonies of citizens living in its strongholds. These witnesses may have been forced to say what they said about ISIS. Or they might be members of the group itself. Someone may disagree with me here citing ISIS’s capture of Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul in June last year. But there was actually no war in Mosul. The purely Sunni city was captured because the Iraqi army decided not to fight ISIS, full stop. The fall of Mosul was in brief not the result of ISIS’s strength but had to do with the socio-political situation of Iraq. Iraq’s ex-premier Nouri al-Maliki’s sectarian policies, the marginalization of the Iraqi Sunnis, the agony, wrath and “poverty” of the ex-officers of Saddam Hussein’s dismantled Baath army, coupled with the terrorism of the Shiite militias, were the major reasons behind Mosul’s fall.

The image that wherever ISIS goes no one can stop it is no longer in place. ISIS is now being defeated, cornered and hurt. If the Iraqi forces, now equipped with U.S.-manufactured weapons, continue their march on ISIS-held territories, the group will be forced to withdraw northward and westward to Syria to be faced with the FSA that Washington has recently pledged to train and equip. This withdrawal has already begun but still within Iraq, media outlets has reported recently, talking about the intensified coalition airstrikes obliging ISIS fighters to pull out to Iraq’s al-Qaem province on the border with Syria.

For some reason, watching a video the group has recently released, I had the feeling that ISIS is now trying to fix its tarnished and widely-abhorred image. In that video, there was an ISIS member, speaking “politely” and “quietly” with no black mask on or AK-47 assault gun on his side or shoulder. The man was justifying the terrorist organization’s burning alive of Jordanian Moaz al-Kasasbeh. Definitely under the shock of the angry response of Jordanians – all Jordanians – and also the world on the brutal and barbarian execution of Moaz, this bearded man was helplessly trying to fix the “no way-to-repair” harm to ISIS’ image caused by the pilot’s burning alive and other barbarian acts.

ISIS could have secured some reputation and, maybe acceptance, if it only fought Syria’s sectarian regime and showed mercy to the Sunni communities. ISIS, which calls itself the “Islamic State,” could also have secured a good image if it dealt with the prisoners it held either according to Islamic law or the international law which stipulates decent treatment of prisoners of war, let alone civilians. But violence, torture, brutality and horror are basic ingredients of ISIS’ deviant ideology. ISIS is now perceived worldwide and also in Islamic countries as a terrorist organization and that is not going to change.


Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via raed_omari1977@yahoo.com, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2

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