2017-08-11 | Terrorism

'Islamic State' leaders engage in vicious recriminations as losses mount

By Khalid al-Taie

"Their power, which was their source of pride, has faded and their dreams of the country with stretching borders is a thing of the past."

A picture taken on July 9, 2017, shows smoke billowing following an airstrike targeting 'Islamic State' militants in Mosul, Iraq. The Iraqi government declared victory of the militants in the city the following day. [Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP]

As Iraqi and coalition forces prepare for an offensive to rout the "Islamic State" (IS) completely from Iraqi soil, the group has turned to its propaganda machine to boost the morale of its beleaguered fighters, observers said.

Through its media arm, IS is trying to convince its fighters in Tal Afar, the group's last stronghold in Iraq, that it was not "defeated" in Mosul, they said.

The group has been blaming its loss in Mosul on some of its own fighters, they said, accusing them of co-operating with the Iraqi forces.

IS has started calling Mosul the "land of abandonment and disobedience" after it used to be known as "the land of empowerment and obedience" within the group.

Instead of admitting to the crushing defeat in Mosul, the group is claiming its fighters "withdrew from it, because its leaders sensed the extent of the betrayals that occurred within its ranks", security analyst Fadhil Abu Ragheef told Diyaruna.

IS sought to prove the validity of this claim by pointing out the accuracy of the airstrikes that buried its most prominent leaders and headquarters, he said.

According to the group's propagandists, the accuracy of the strikes is a clear sign of the "breach in its ranks and the communication of a number of its members with the security forces", he added.

Infighting and internal disarray

Since the defeat in Mosul, Abu Ragheef said, IS leaders have been engaged in a vicious round of recriminations and "a wide-ranging exchange of accusations of treason, negligence and complacency".

The defeat has forced the group to focus on restoring the tattered morale of its fighters, and has prompted a restructuring within its ranks which is intended to sharpen its defenses.

According to intelligence information, Abu Ragheef said, IS has reshaped its leadership in Tal Afar by allowing its most prominent and powerful figures to form scattered and independent groups.

This is primarily designed to "give greater flexibility" to its elements in the new street war, he said, and to intensify the reliance on individual terror attacks.

In anticipation of the upcoming battle for Tal Afar, he said, IS has recruited 250 suicide bombers and obtained vehicles to use in attacks, and has dug tunnels, camouflaged trenches and set up barricades throughout the city.

But these preparations will not be sufficient to defeat the Iraqi forces, he added.

Camouflaging imminent demise

Iraqi MP Iskandar Witwit, who serves on the parliamentary security and defence committee, told Diyaruna he believes the IS propaganda emerging from Tal Afar intends to camouflage the group's defeat and imminent demise.

The attempt to justify defeat with claims of treason is clearly designed to "cover up the problems and the great weakness that have hit the group as a result of its successive losses", he said.

"They are trying to hide the fact that they are completely over with their loss of Mosul, the headquarters of their alleged caliphate," he said. "Their power, which was their source of pride, has faded and their dreams of the country with stretching borders is a thing of the past."

Last month, IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi also attempted to rally fighters in defense of al-Raqa, the group's main stronghold in Syria, but that call largely fell on deaf ears.

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