If ISIS had a 3-24 (IV): The importance of propaganda, intimidation and conquests

If ISIS had a 3-24 (IV): The importance of propaganda, intimidation and conquests

By Carter Malkasian

Best Defense guest columnist

Chapter Four: Propaganda

ISIL is perhaps unrivalled in propaganda. Their use of social media, high-quality print products, and traditional Islamic forms of communication has won respect throughout the world. The manual will describe a few but not all of these techniques — to do so would be to admit that much of their communication is propaganda. Rather, the manual would be an example of their primacy in propaganda. It would be publicized in social media, on websites, and in the mosques. Print products would be colorful, high quality, and easy for the average fighter to read (and printed in multiple languages). Its main dictates or exhortations, especially on Islam and unity, would be repeated widely and used to inspire. The manual would be a means of unifying and spreading the movement.

Chapter Five: Spies and infidels

Intimidation has been a hallmark of ISIL, as well as its predecessor, al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). ISIL will target agents and soldiers working for the Syrian, Iranian, and Iraqi governments. The manual would endorse punishing, imprisoning, or killing them. It would describe how to conduct a widespread assassination campaign. It would call for imams (religious leaders) to publicly admonish Iraqis and Syrians who work with their governments. It would particularly call for ISIL fighters to target any new Iraqi National Guard units being formed by the United States in order to prevent a second Anbar Awakening. Muslims working with the United States would be dubbed infidels.

In an attempt to avoid the backlash suffered during the Anbar Awakening, the manual would forbid fighters from harming innocent Muslims. In reality, ISIL will only try to avoid killing Sunni civilians. It will permit innocent Shi’a and any Sunnis working with the government to be killed. 

Chapter Six: Foreign countries

The manual could lay out a strategy beyond immediate territorial conquest. That strategy could envision forward "liberation" strikes (terrorist attacks) against enemy governments, in places such as Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iran, Europe, and the United States. These would mostly be martyrdom operations (suicide bombings) in the Middle East but part of the strategy would be recruiting foreigners to conduct attacks in home countries in Europe and North America.

Indeed, the manual could describe how to recruit foreigners who are Muslims to work for the Islamic State. Whereas the United States has long used strategic air campaigns, ISIL may have their own terrorist deep-strike campaign.


Select Bibliography

Harald Doornbos and Jenan Moussa, "Recipes from the Islamic State’s Laptop of Doom," Foreign Policy, Sept. 9.

Harleen Gambhir, "Dabiq: The Strategic Messaging of the Islamic State," Institute for the Study of War, Aug. 15.

Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, "The Dawn of the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham," Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, vol. 16, Hudson Institute, 2014.

And special thanks to Lieutenant Colonel (ret.) Patrick Carroll, Marine Corps foreign affairs officer in Iraq (2003-2006), and fluent Arabic speaker for his insight into Islam and ISIL.

Carter Malkasian is the author of  War Comes to Garmser and was an advisor to the Marines in Al Anbar in 2004 and 2006.