Middle East

ISIS video wages psychological war on Iraqi soldiers

BAGHDAD: The Al-Qaeda splinter group ISIS has released a video warning Iraqi soldiers who may still have some fight in them that they risk being rounded up and executed. Iraq’s army unraveled when the insurgents spearheaded a lightning advance through northern towns and cities, building on territory their comrades captured earlier in the west of the country, a major OPEC oil producer.

The 30-minute video clip, circulated during the Eid al-Fitr holiday, sheds light on what tactics ISIS, which now calls itself the Islamic State, is likely to employ as it presses ahead with its campaign.

After sweeping through a town with quick-hit raids, the militants are filmed standing over dozens of terrified, handcuffed Iraqi soldiers.

One fighter mocks a soldier for wearing civilian clothes over his uniform out of fear of being identified and killed. He pleads for mercy, to no avail.

Then dozens of soldiers are led to a sandy desert pit. They are executed one by one – bullets from AK-47 assault rifles pumped into their heads.

Not satisfied that all are dead, an ISIS fighter makes one last round, opening fire again, one by one.

Meanwhile, others are led to the edge of a river. Each one is shot in the head with a pistol and then shoved in, the executioner standing in a large pool of blood.

The mission begins with an ISIS commander firing up militants with promises that paradise in heaven awaits them if they take the city of Samarra, which is 100 km north of Baghdad and would be their next target in a southward push.

He tells them that God “made us proud when he permitted us to go to jihad.” It was not clear where or when the video was filmed.

The footage features night-vision sequences, then shows fighters moving into a city in flat-bed trucks, and American-made Humvees seized during their surge through the north last month.

The ISIS convoys filmed include small tanks and heavy machine guns transported on trailers.

Some fighters are on foot, darting toward government buildings on sandy roads. As ISIS gains ground, small units in trucks pull up beside vehicles during daytime and open fire on passengers who lose control of their vehicles.

Several militants walk up to a van and empty their AK-47s through the windows, to make sure the job is done.

Then the camera focuses on Iraqi security forces in watchtowers. One by one they are picked off by ISIS snipers, who seem to avoid heavy clashes and rely instead on quick, small operations combined with psychological warfare.

An insurgent can be heard weeping in joy as he declares that Samarra now belongs to the group.

Residents and security sources say the central government remains in control of Samarra so this footage may have come from another city or town seized by ISIS.

Nevertheless, it illustrates the thinking of the radical group, which aims to redraw the Middle East map although it appears to have paused its territorial thrust for now in favor of consolidating recent gains north of Samarra.

ISIS militants Tuesday blew up a strategic bridge connecting Samarra to the town of Tikrit to the north, severing the main route and a tunnel beneath it that was used by Iraqi military forces, a senior local police official said.

Iraqi troops have tried but failed to recapture Tikrit from the insurgents.

After the soldiers are executed, the ISIS video shows fighters blowing up Shiite shrines or bulldozing mosques, as well as residents of the town welcoming fighters.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 31, 2014, on page 8.




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