Al-Baghdadi beset by hypocrisy, delusions: analysts

By Khalid al-Taie


Iraqi Border Guard commander Lt. Gen. Hamed Abdullah Ibrahim follows surveillance operations to detect any ISIS movement near the western border in a photograph posted online on August 7th. [Photo courtesy of Iraqi Border Guard Command] 

The fiery rhetoric of "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's latest speech presents a stark contrast with the reality on the ground -- a group in tatters and struggling with low morale, analysts say.

An audio recording of the speech was circulated online on September 16th, and a transcript was published on the front page of the group's al-Naba magazine.

Regional security experts say it is filled with lies and delusions.

"The prisons, the prisons, soldiers of the caliphate!" al-Baghdadi says in the recording. "Do your utmost to rescue your brothers and sisters and break down the walls that imprison them."


Women are seen inside a camp where people affiliated with ISIS are held in the northern Syrian village of Malikiya on September 29th, 2018. [Delil Souleiman/AFP]

Thousands of ISIS fighters are held in prisons in Iraq and Syria, while tens of thousands of their family members are held in camps.

In Syria, where ISIS lost the last sliver of territory it held in March, hundreds of the group's fighters are in the custody of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Iraqi authorities do not release figures on detainees in their prisons, but observers say about 20,000 people are in custody over suspected ISIS links.

Hypocrisy, delusions, defeatism

Al-Baghdadi exhibited "a great deal of hypocrisy by continuing to delude his supporters into thinking that the group remains powerful, while the truth is otherwise", Iraqi security expert Ahmed al-Sharifi told Diyaruna.

The ISIS leader used his usual inflammatory language in an attempt to project a strong image of ISIS, even though its human, financial and logistical capabilities are collapsing, he said.

While he claimed ISIS continues to receive pledges of allegiance from new followers, "this is contrary to current information, which indicates otherwise", al-Sharifi said.

"In exhibiting so much hypocrisy and deceit, al-Baghdadi wants to continue to mislead his elements and supporters and dupe them into thinking that his group is still powerful," he said.

The speech "reflects signs of defeatism and disappointment that were clearly evident in al-Baghdadi's use of inflammatory phrases dripping with emotional and religious charge", al-Sharifi said.

It also indicates "he is no longer able to restore the group to health and is isolated from his surroundings", he said, noting that all ISIS has now are the "rigmarole, lying and intimidation" al-Baghdadi peddles.

Certain words and Qur'anic verses al-Baghdadi used in his speech imply that a large number of the group’s fighters shirked from battle, according to terror expert Wael Abdul-Muttalib.

This is noteworthy, he told Diyaruna, as al-Baghdadi used to portray his fighters as an invincible force, and to claim they had come of their own free will to fight, which is clearly no longer the case.

As for al-Baghdadi's call for attacks on prisons, Abdul-Muttalib described it as an "emotional appeal" to invoke a sense of "duty" among the group's remnants.

Conflicts 'raging' within ISIS

ISIS’s ideological project "has proved to be a failure and no longer garners popular acceptance or interest because it is a project based on hypocrisy and false claims", Iraqi military analyst Safaa al-Aasam told Diyaruna.

The truth about ISIS has become widely known, he explained, even among those who were initially convinced by al-Baghdadi's ideology and rhetoric.

Al-Baghdadi's speeches -- the audio from September and his previous video released in April -- will not prevent the group's decline, he said.

"These audio recordings or even the group leader’s appearance in a new video cannot reverse the decline of morale among his elements or redress the fragmentation that exists among them," al-Aasam said.

"Conflicts are raging within the group, and there are significant disagreements between the leaders," he said. "Al-Baghdadi implicitly referred to this in his recent audio recording."

In addition to losing the territory it once held, ISIS has lost all its resources and has been reduced to conducting sporadic attacks in remote desert areas.

"Iraqi forces have proven their ability to keep the terrorists fragmented, on the run, and unable to regroup and rebuild their ranks," al-Aasam said.

Monitoring ISIS's propaganda

Al-Baghdadi's speeches and all other ISIS propaganda is closely monitored, Iraqi Joint Operations Command spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasul told Diyaruna.

"We monitor these messages and analyse them from the intelligence and security standpoint, and we consider all the lies and contradictions they contain a reflection of the group’s collapse and vulnerability," he said.

"The terrorists’ real state of affairs is quite different from that portrayed by ISIS and its criminal leader al-Baghdadi, as they are fragmented and have very limited access to weapons, funds and logistical support," Rasul said.

Al-Baghdadi's pleas in his recent speech for his followers to attack prisons and free the group’s elements are merely "calls of despair and defeat", he said.

But Iraqi security forces commanders "do not ignore any terrorist threat of any kind or size", he added, noting that as a precautionary measure, surveillance around prisons has been fortified.

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