Islamic State Marks One-Year Anniversary of Mosul’s Fall With Grisly, Bureaucratic Video

The video is the latest attempt by the group to legitimize itself as a state.

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 3crop

Bombings, assassinations, drive-by shootings, gunfights, executions, and a prison break: These are but some of the scenes that feature in a video released Thursday by the Islamic State to mark the one-year anniversary of its conquest of the Iraqi city of Mosul. It’s the visual language and political symbolism the world has come to expect from the group, but the video also features a less frequently emphasized aspect of the militant group’s rise to power in Syria and Iraq: functioning courts, banks, and other trappings of government.

After presenting the viewer with a brutal 25-minute chronicle of the Islamic State’s conquering of Mosul, the video shifts in focus to the group’s attempts at civil administration. We see an Islamic State functionary stuffing money into envelopes bearing the group’s logo. Another functionary stamps documents and fills out what looks to be entries in a checkbook.

“The Islamic State fulfilled its sharia duty by collecting money from rich Muslims and giving it to the poor, and it established offices for that purpose,” a narrator says, according to a translation provided by the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks online jihadi activity. “The Islamic Court was opened and stabilized security among the people and applied prescribed punishment. It cut off the hands of thieves, stoned to death the adulterers, whipped the drinker of alcohol, and struck with the sword the heads of sorcerers.”

And with that, the viewer returns to the charnel house from the government office. The video marking the Islamic State’s greatest victory to date is clearly a piece of propaganda, albeit one cut as a kind of documentary aimed at the would-be jihadi fanboys of the world. The message is simple: Look here kids, and see the kind of adventure and glory you can find by fighting with us in battle. Islamic State videos have a striking aesthetic resemblance to first-person shooter video games. The cameramen frequently try to maneuver behind a fighter wielding an automatic weapon, sometimes giving the viewer a sense of participation, even control, in the violence being perpetrated.

Images of such violence are also a military tool, possibly instilling fear in their enemies and lessening their will to fight. With that in mind, it should be emphasized that the video provides documentary evidence of the group committing war crimes, including video of the summary executions of Iraqi army soldiers and officers.

On the other hand, the video is also an attempt by the Islamic State to legitimize itself as a real, functioning state. “The Islamic State took care of the sharia interests and the security of the people, and it also took care of their worldly interests and the necessary services,” the narrator says. “Through that, it established the Office of Health and Education, and also the Office of Agriculture, and the Office of Natural Resources.”

Recent media reports have indicated that the Islamic State isn’t particularly skilled at running such state services, but following the fall of the Iraqi city of Ramadi, the group may have some time to hone their bureaucratic skills in Mosul and other cities under its control. Iraqi and U.S. officials had said they would launch an offensive during the spring of 2015 to reclaim Mosul, but the focus of the anti-Islamic State military campaign now appears to be shifting toward first retaking Ramadi and then focusing on Mosul in the north.

That means those bureaucrats in Mosul should probably have some more Islamic State stationery drawn up. They’ve got a lot more checks to cut.


Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering cyberspace, its conflicts, and controversies. @eliasgroll

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