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The Islamic State's new propaganda film is like an HR meeting, but with beheadings

This new propaganda film is supposed to reassure residents of the terror state that everything is running smoothly, but actually it's just really boring.
Screenshot dal video

People don't commonly associate the Islamic State, the brutal extremist outfit that has established a rudimentary state that transcends the borders of Iraq and Syria, with organization.

Beheadings, suicide bombings, throwing gay men off roofs — these are all hallmarks of the IS brand.

But a slick new propaganda video from the group is trying to change that.

The video, entitled "The Structure of the Khalafah," comes from IS-run al-Furqan Media and takes would-be emigrants through the governance chart for the terror state.


At the top of the structural pyramid, there's the caliph — the spiritual and political leader of the caliphate on earth — a position still held, as far as we know, by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

While some media have highlighted the appearance in the film by al-Baghdadi as one of his first in months, the footage of the IS commander is actually old footage that has been used in IS propaganda video for some time. Various unconfirmed reports emerging from Syria indicate that al-Baghdadi had been injured, perhaps severely, from various coalition airstrikes.

Al-Baghdadi is responsible for issuing top-level orders, and receives advice on the various matters he deals with from the "shura council."

The delegated committee, directly under al-Baghdadi, then passes these orders on, and supervises the three main branches of the state: the Wilayat, the Dawawin, and the Committees and Offices.

The Wilayat are regional governments responsible for the administration of local affairs throughout the state. There are currently 35 Wilayat, according to the video, with 19 within Iraq and Syria, and the rest spread throughout the world.

Many of these local offshoots of IS, however, were not included in that 35 count.

"There is no mention of the Philippines as a wilaya. Nor is there any mention of Tunisia, Indonesia, Somalia and Bangladesh: countries where IS has also claimed operations. The last real expansion on the geographic stage on the international level was the Caucasus wilaya a year ago," writes Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, a Jihad-Intel Research Fellow at the Middle East Forum.


"In my view, the lack of new wilaya announcements reflects an IS strategy of avoiding wilaya announcements because they lack credibility without realisation of governance and administration on the ground akin to the system in place in IS-controlled territories in Iraq and Syria."

"It's one thing to claim a wilayat, but quite another thing to govern over it with any effectiveness. ISIS has the former in many cases. Not so much the latter," Amarnath Amarasingam, fellow at the George Washington University Program on Extremism, told VICE News.

The Dawawin, described in the video as "places for protecting rights" are basically ministries, found in each Wilayat, which deal with tasks including enforcing sharia, collecting tax, waging war, and creating and disseminating propaganda.

The committees and offices are bodies of specialists dealing with state matters like processing immigrants, saving IS prisoners of war, and public relations with local tribes.

One of the religious ministries is, according to the video, responsible for "holding preparatory seminars." The taxation ministry is "concerned with meeting the needs of the poor and destitute according to a structured mechanism and its guidelines."

Before diving into these mundane bureaucratic details, the narrator gives an IS-approved version of history whereby the Muslim world regressed to squalor after the dissolution of the last widely-recognized Sunni caliphate, ruled by the Ottomans, in 1924.


The narrator portrays IS, which in June 2014 declared itself to be the next caliphate, as being able to return the Muslim world to its past glory.

Related: Someone is spreading fake copies of the Islamic State's magazine

While much of the video might seem relatively tame for IS, the video does end with a montage of beheadings and executions carried out by the militants.

The video appears to be a well-timed public relations effort, issued to reassure its supporters it's a fully functional state capable of governing Muslims throughout the world, not just another militant group wreaking chaos.

In the last few months, IS has suffered massive losses of territory, including up to 45 and 20 percent of peak territory in Iraq and Syria respectively, according to the U.S. government. Leaked internal IS documents, made public in January, also found fighters salaries were cut in half due to a lack of funding.

The recent spate of ISIS-claimed attacks throughout the world are a result of this decline, according to experts.

Will McCants, the director of the Brookings Institution's Project on US Relations With the Islamic World, tweeted: "ISIS loss of territory prompts more ISIS attacks abroad," adding that it's a "survival strategy that hastens ISIS state's demise by provoking more intervention."

Beyond provoking Western military intervention, the attacks are also intended to attract more funding, according to Clint Watts, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

As such, the video can be seen as a sinking business' attempt to reassure investors that all is well, and their money is in good hands.

Follow Davide Mastracci on Twitter: @DavideMastracci