The Islamic State's media machine took to the web again on Tuesday with the release of a high-production Hollywood-style trailer for an upcoming movie entitled Flames of War.
The 52-second clip was issued in response to President Barack Obama's vow to "degrade and ultimately destroy [the Islamic State]," and shows flames engulfing footage of the White House and Obama, as well as images of US forces in Iraq — despite Obama ruling out putting "boots on the ground" last week.
The video, produced by Al Hayat Media, the English-language media arm of the Islamic State, was originally posted to the internet archiving site Archive.org and boasts high-quality images, advanced filming techniques, and a slow motion sequence of a tank blowing up. The only words spoken in the video come from Obama himself saying, "Combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq."
At the end of the video the words "Flames of War: Fighting Has Just Begun" flashes on the screen, before it ends with the phrase "Coming Soon." The style is consistent with other high production videos produced by Al Hayat. Its use of English and similar digital effects to those used in video games and action movies seem designed specifically to appeal to potential young recruits in the Western world.
There are no clues within the video as to why it has been released now, but it was issued just hours after Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee he would advise Obama to redeploy US combat troops in Iraq if airstrikes didn't succeed in rolling back the Islamist insurgents.
This comment came even despite Obama's promises not to "get dragged into a ground war" last week, and the White House later called the idea of US troops in battle a "purely hypothetical scenario." Obama will deliver a primetime speech Wednesday night outlining his plan to combat the Islamic State, but already rejected claims that morning that Islamic State terrorists may be trying to enter the United States via the Mexico border.
While the US remained reticent about military involvement, Iraqi forces launched an intense military operation against insurgents in Ramadi, Falluja, and Haditha in central Iraq.
Engaging in a Propaganda War
While the president still seems unsure as to whether the US will send ground troops to Iraq, the US State Department is wholeheartedly engaging in the social media war against the terrorists.
The State Department's project Think Again Turn Away has its own Twitter handle, Tumblr, Facebook page, and satire video.
Posted to YouTube on July 23, the State Department video is ironically called Welcome to Islamic State land (ISIS/ISIL) and shows graphic scenes of crucifixions, beheadings, and suicide bombings with English title cards in an attempt to deter US nationals and Western Muslims from joining the Islamic State's ranks.
The project has yet to respond to the Islamic State's most recent video, but it seems that the terrorist group is winning in the propaganda wars.
A poll by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News that questioned views on the Islamic State revealed that 47 percent of Americans believe the country is less safe now than before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — an increase on figures in 2002, when just 20 percent of the country said the nation was less safe.
The entire project Think Again Turn Away has also been strongly criticized by those at home. Rita Katz, director of the SITE Intelligence Group, a for-profit company that studies jihadi extremists' behavior online called the project "embarrassing," "distressing," and "ineffective" in an article in TIME earlier this month.
"While the State Department is making a great step in the right direction by recognizing the importance of social media in jihadi recruitment," the Israeli Jewish analyst Katz wrote. "The Think Again Turn Away campaign has been anything but valiant — particularly on Twitter."
"This outreach by the US government is not only ineffective, but also provides jihadists with a stage to voice their arguments — regularly engaging in petty disputes with fighters and supporters of groups like IS, al Qaeda, and al-Shabaab, and arguing over who has killed more people while exchanging sarcastic quips," she added.
Sense of Humor
In Iraq, the propaganda mood is distinctly different. There, state television has opted instead to combat the threat with "satire" videos.
The most recent video broadcast by al Iraqiya, the state-owned television station of Iraq, is also a trailer — but this time for a soon-to-come anti-IS satirical series, called "The Superstitious State," a title which plays on the words "khilafa" ("caliphate") and "khirafa" ("superstition").
The satire features a Jewish woman who gives birth to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, "an ISIS-ling" hatched from an egg after her marriage to an all-singing all-dancing Satan.
The bizarre video features several other dubious characters, including a gun-toting, flask-swigging American cowboy, The Joker, Dracula, Stalin, and Sheikha Mozah, wife of the former Emir of Qatar. The song-and-dance routine ends with "al-Baghdadi" blowing himself up in a theater. Some lyrics in the catchy chorus include: "Summon him tell him to slaughter people, summon him tell him to toy a little with religion," and "We flog whoever opposes us and remove his head. Where are you oh beheader?"
According to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which posted a translated version to YouTube, the video has been aired several times a day since it was first broadcast on September 9 in Iraq and viewed over 25,000 times on YouTube.
Al Iraqiya isn't the only Arab language media to resort to satire in a bid to undermine the Islamic State's slick media campaign. Al-Shahed Al-Mustaqil TV, an Iraqi channel broadcasting from the UK, included in its satire show, Al-Basheer Show, an anti-Islamic State skit.
The spoof shows actors wearing fake beards, and is supposedly an advert for an imaginary brand of cheese called Takfiri, which in Arabic is a person who accuses others of heresy. The video is based on the advert for the familiar French La Vache Qui Rit cheese, and was first aired on September 5.
Follow Olivia Crellin on Twitter: @OliviaCrellin