Iraq’s goofy “Anti-ISIS” propaganda commericals

Here are two videos which are supposedly being shown on Iraqi television. I’m ambivalent about them. At first, I thought it was pretty cool that they’re putting something out there countering the ISIS narrative. Good on them – comparing ISIS to rats and the Iraqi military as a lion with the support of eagles (a very obvious nod to the US, I think). The second video depicts a crazed, wild-eyed jihadist playing with a snake before a kitted-out Iraqi commando shows up at the door ready to do the business.

Well done, I thought.

I wonder, though, how Iraqis might see these videos. They’re pretty freaking cheesy, and I think cheesiness knows no boundaries in an age where everyone watches American movies. The one with the lion looks like the final project for a computer graphics major at a community college. It reminds me of this silly intro I had to sit through over and over again when I was at Fort Bragg and went to the movies on the weekends.

Maybe I’m just being overly critical. Maybe everyone thinks these are awesome.

ISIS, for their part, does a pretty good job with media. What’s going on here?


9 thoughts on “Iraq’s goofy “Anti-ISIS” propaganda commericals

  1. Don Royster

    Too bad the Iraqi army didn’t live up to being the lion. If I remember correctly, the Iraqi army showed that it couldn’t fight its way out of a wet paper bag. And I don’t think someone from ISIS would be sitting in a house playing with snakes. He’d probably be the one kicking in the door.


  2. BrantleyNewton

    I think that propaganda is inherently cheesy because it usually lacks subtlety. Watching the early Russian classic films in college film courses always got under my skin for this exact reason. Granted, we were watching those movies because Eisenstein pretty much invented editing, but still, the stories were such ham fisted propaganda pieces that they couldn’t keep me engaged.

    These were just plain cartoonish.


  3. Wes

    There are Iraqi security force units that heavily use social media for propaganda and recruiting purposes — specifically, the Iraqi Special Operations Forces, a.k.a. the Golden Force (which is in the midst of a major expansion and has been the centerpiece of just about every halfway-serious counterattack against ISIS this year). Just search “ISOF Gold” on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and you will find the command’s official accounts, or visit the main site, The Golden Force commander, Maj. Gen. Fadhil Barwari, features heavily (they don’t even have to name him, he seems to be a public figure now whose face many Iraqis recognize), as do photos of ISOF soldiers kitted out with SOPMOD M4s, brand-new Accuracy International sniper rifles, bump helmets with Velcro patches bearing phrases like “Let the bodies hit the floor” (in English or Arabic), and the like, often standing over dead insurgent bodies.

    The sites are kind of trippy. Compare and contrast to, say, the 75th Ranger Regiment Facebook page, a U.S. Army Facebook page that’s obviously geared more toward recruiting than FRG purposes — there are obvious similarities but big differences, too. For one, the skull masks that seem to have become de rigeur among the ISOF since the U.S. left (they have also adopted black fatigues); for another, all the photos of dead enemy fighters with commandos standing over them. It’s a little jarring to see these on an official unit site, rather than a privately administered “war porn” type account, but they are there and they sure seem to garner a lot of likes, shares, re-tweets, etc. (I recently showed some of these accounts to an SF officer who did several deployments advising the ISOF, and they made him sad. “Well, they really hung onto all the worst traits we gave them,” was what he said when he saw all the skull masks and so on.)


    1. Don Post author

      Wes – thanks for the comment. This is super interesting. I’ve been checking out the website and Facebook page and I think you are spot on. Can you imagine what would happen if I started posting some of that kind of stuff?

      It does make me wonder though – do they have any kind of “standards” for what is appropriate to post? How much of the “revenge” narrative plays into this, as in, does the “audience” that follows ISOF Gold WANT to see gore and stuff like that? Super fascinating.


      1. Wes

        Good question, Don. I don’t know the answer, but I would guess they are deliberately playing into the revenge narrative because that’s what drives recruiting — pre-2011, the ISOF maintained a fairly even balance of Sunni Arab, Shia Arab, and Kurdish members, but my understanding is that since 2011, as the force’s ranks have been depleted by extended stays in the Fallujah and Ramadi meatgrinders at the same time that the force is being doubled in size, the rank-and-file has become very heavily Shia (even though the ISOF commanding general is still a Kurd who has worked with U.S. SOF since 1992). So the force is recruiting from the same pool of young Shia men as militias like Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Kataib Hezbollah, and so on. I can imagine how the revenge narrative would be a powerful recruiting tool in that context.

        The apparently officially sanctioned use of photos of dead insurgent bodies makes me think of a couple of experiences I’ve had in the theater where I’ve spent more time reporting, Afghanistan, where I’ve gotten the impression that to Afghan security forces, the American taboo against displaying enemy bodies as trophies is puzzling. Once, for example, I remember coming across the aftermath of an Apache strike in a small, mostly Taliban-controlled village in Paktika, while embedded with a U.S. infantry unit. There were five or six Taliban bodies lying around, some burned up unrecognizably, others pretty much intact, wearing BDUs, chest rigs, sneakers, etc. The U.S. patrol, which was led by a company commander, was very cautious about these bodies: no one was photographing them except for a bearded intel guy who was carefully doing it for SSE purposes, and the company commander was uncomfortable at first with my photographing them either, even though my doing so wasn’t prohibited by the embed rules. Then in the morning, an ANA battalion commander showed up. The first thing he had his guys do was drag all the bodies out into the area in front of the village mosque where he and the U.S. commander would be explaining what happened to the village elders in a few hours, to show the bodies off and, I would speculate, to see how the village residents reacted to them. (They were unperturbed.)

        Fast forward a few years to my most recent Afghanistan trip, during which I did an embed with an ANA battalion in Kunar. The whole time, I was escorted around by an ANA public affairs NCO, who had a very nice camera that I rarely saw him use. Eventually it became clear, after he showed me the photos he had on the camera, that a big part of his job was shooting photographs of captured enemy equipment and, yes, enemy corpses, which his commander would then make available to regional Afghan newspapers to run with their stories about Taliban body counts. This was the ANA’s form of IO and media engagement.


  4. Pingback: ISOF Gold: Let The Bodies Hit The Floor | Carrying the Gun

  5. Pingback: Iraqi Security Forces and the Will to Fight | Carrying the Gun

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